A reality check for the recovery plan haters
It doesn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary when Rush Limbaugh looks at Obama’s economic recovery plan and reiterates his desire to see the president fail. Or when Gov. Bobby Jindal, purportedly the rising star of the Republican Party, argues that federal spending is a bad way to pull the nation back from the brink. But these are no ordinary times — faced with the greatest domestic crisis in modern memory, at what point does hard-line politics make for sheer lunacy?
While reporting for a forthcoming magazine piece, I spoke recently with economist Dean Baker about some of the political right’s machinations regarding the economic meltdown.
“One thing that was amazing to me was people blaming the housing crisis on the Community Reinvestment Act. It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Baker, who is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “The idea was widely circulated, so there are a lot of people out there who believe that what lies at the center of the crisis is that the government forced banks to make loans to poor people and minorities. That’s absurd, and the media should’ve been doing more to point that out.”
A few did, at least: Businessweek’s Aaron Pressman explained last fall why the 1977 federal law, requiring banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods where they take deposits, had little to do with the insidious subprime mortgages that inflated the housing bubble. (Pressman further pointed out that the Bush government in fact weakened the CRA, while enabling Wall Street to gorge on dubious derivatives and absurd leverage.) But the blame game holds powerful emotional appeal in dark days, and the warriors of the right soldier on in earnest. Fox News’ Sean Hannity keeps repeating a debunked GOP talking point that the freshly signed $787 billion recovery package contains a $30 million provision to save a salt marsh mouse in San Francisco. Simply erroneous, as Congressman Joe Sestak pointed out this week on Hannity’s own show. (Here’s the video.)
Baker worries that partisan warfare will squelch political appetite for additional stimulus — which he believes will be necessary going forward. Obama had to fight hard just to get the first big spending plan through Congress. “Nobody wants to waste money,” Baker said, pointing out that job creation and a particular project’s usefulness are different issues. “But if the alternative is that people think we’re somehow going to benefit by not spending money, then they’re just on another planet.” Without more government spending to come, he said, “we could see this downward spiral continue for some time.”