Over at AFP, Ed Frank amplifies my point about the dangers of "me-too" stimulus from Republicans:
To win this debate, conservatives need to draw a bright line in the sand: the way to best stimulate the economy is through tax relief - not paying one guy to dig a hole and another guy to fill it back in. Period.
Otherwise, anything they say will amount to, "That guy wants to waste $800 billion of your tax dollars on a scheme that will do nothing to stimulate the economy, while I only want to waste $200 billion of your tax dollars! Aren't I great?!"
Sadly, based on conversations I've had with people on the Hill, I'm afraid that's where we're headed. And that's exactly the kind of "Me-Too-But-Less" mentality that kept conservatives largely irrelevant on Capitol Hill for four decades.
To the extent we have lost the public opinion battle on tax cuts in the past, it's been because the debate was framed as unnecessary tax cuts fortherich (tm) versus prudent deficit reduction. The average person always tell a pollster we should do the prudent, "responsible" thing. Of course, that same taxpayer will gladly accept the tax cut once offered, making the polls showing Americans "don't want" a tax cut totally irrelevant.
Obama and the Democrats have completely taken this argument off the table. The argument is no longer reckless, tax-slashing Republicans vs. balanced budget Democrats. The Democrats have doubled down on the massive domestic deficit spending of the Bush era. There will likely be massive deficit spending of some sort in the next few years to deal with the "depression."
This is why a rule of No New Spending in the stimulus sounds good to me. As a matter of practical reality, our numbers in the Senate and House are such that no Republican proposal will become law. The opportunity to finesse the Democratic stimulus is not there because the playing field is titled so far in the Democrats' direction. With hopeless minorities, we are freer to demonstrate what we would do in an ideal governing situation, instead of trying to make the White House's proposal less bad.
The best strategy is to create a nucleus of energy around a proposal as diametrically opposed to President Obama's as humanly possible, thus pulling the eventual Gang of 14 to 20 "compromise" as far to the right as can be mustered.
If some sort of fiscal expansion is a given, and there is no way to paint a more modest set of permanent tax cuts as unreasonable when compared to an $800 billion stimulus, we might as well take this opportunity to have a public debate about the best way to stimulate the economy: tax cuts or spending hikes. To do that, though, the official Republican position on spending needs to be as clean as the driven snow.
Facing a new President in 2001, the Democrats made a profound mistake by initially countering Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut by signaling agreement with $1 trillion in cuts. Lo and behold, they split the difference at $1.3 trillion, giving the new Republican President 80% of what he wanted. We cannot fall into the trap that Nate Silver outlines here:
The numbers we're playing with are so large here -- so large as to seem almost abstract -- that one gets the sense that whatever Obama calls for, Mitch McConnell will simply call for 40% less. So if Obama calls for a $1 trillion stimulus, McConnell will call for $600 billion instead. And if Obama calls for a $800 billion stimulus, McConnell will call for $480 billion instead.If I were Obama, and what I actually wanted was an $800 billion stimulus, I might have someone whisper some off-record comment to Adam Nagourney about a $1.2 trillion stimulus just to frame McConnell's expectations accordingly. Then Obama can force the GOP into the position of accepting a compromise which it doesn't really want.
Let's call BS. We agree to 0% of what Obama wants on spending, take the non-Scrooge position by going long on taxes, while still winning the fiscal responsibility argument by deficit spending less than the Democrats.