Government: With a shutdown looming, the engines of blame warm up
House and Senate leaders moved one step closer to a government shutdown Wednesday, raising the drumbeat of blame-casting from both sides. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed the Tea Party faction in the House GOP; a group of House Republican freshmen blamed Harry Reid. Polls suggest that the public can't decide who to blame in the event of a shutdown, which means the fight is seen as a battle between equally reasonable -- or unreasonable -- positions: the House's effort to slash the deficit vs. the Senate's resistance to precipitous spending cuts in a struggling economy.
The Senate position is undermined by the increasingly positive reports about jobs and the economy, which call into question the need for more stimulus from Washington. Another problem for Democrats is that voters across the country have gotten religion on the deficit, so putting up a fight against $61 billion in cuts when the deficit is nearly $1.5 trillion seems, well, petty.
On the other hand, Republicans are the ones refusing to split the difference between the chambers on the budget, so the public may find it easier to blame them for a shutdown. In a way, they're more like the NFL owners, who are demanding a reduction in the percentage of revenue paid to players, than the athletes, who want to retain the current split. (In the polls I've seen on this topic, more people blame the owners for the lockout than the players, although the No. 1 choice is "both.")
To me, though, the weakest point of House Speaker John Boehner's argument is the rationale he offers for making the cuts. According to ABCNews.com, Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters this on Wednesday:
Our goal is real clear. We’re going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get, and the policy riders that were attached to them because we believe that cutting spending will lead to a better environment for job creation....
It would be easy to just fold your cards and go home. That’s not what the American people elected us to do. They elected us to cut spending because cutting spending will lead to a better environment for job creators to create jobs. And we’re going to fight for as many spending cuts as we can get.
It's hard to imagine how cutting the federal deficit by 4% (the House GOP position) instead of 2% (the Senate position) would make a difference in the decision to launch or expand a business. I mean, how many companies are poised to open a new branch office as soon as Congress eliminates funding for National Public Radio? Puh-lease.
With interest rates incredibly low, there's no evidence that even the bodacious amount of government borrowing is raising the cost of capital for private industry. A far more likely impediment to expansion is the high rate of unemployment and under-employment, which raise concern about consumer spending.
That's not to say the feds shouldn't cut spending (although The Times' editorial board has argued that Congress should hold off until fiscal 2012, when the economy has more steam). It's just to say that Boehner's making the wrong argument.
-- Jon Healey
Photo: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), left, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Credit:AP Photo / Evan Vucci (Boehner) and Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images (Reid)