"In Washington more spending and more debt is business as usual," House Speaker John Boehner declared on Monday before warning, "I've got news for Washington - those days are over." The days, Boehner should have explained, before Barack Obama took the oath of office. As Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) rightly pointed on the Senate floor last year, "We would have none of this if it hadn't been for the Republican debt orgy that they went through." Which is exactly right. As a few handy charts show, Republican presidents and the current GOP leadership in Congress presided over that debt debauchery. And now they demand Democrats clean up their mess.
For their part, Republicans want to pretend history began on January 20, 2009. While Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling claimed Friday that for Republicans raising the debt ceiling is "contrary to our DNA," House Minority Leader Eric Cantor protested two weeks ago, "I don't think the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say they're going to vote for a debt ceiling increase."
As McClatchy showed, Republicans are as bad at genetics and history as they are at economics:
During the comparatively mild 1991 recession, President George H.W. Bush twice vetoed the extension of unemployment insurance because the $5.3 billion price tag would add to the deficit. After taking a pounding in the polls, he eventually made a deal with Democrats, who funded the program in part through higher taxes on the wealthy. But for Bush's reelection prospects in 1992, the damage was done, perhaps best captured by his pathetic plea to voters, "Message: I care."
"[The] argument the Republicans give is that these bills would add to the national debt. For example, the latest extension of unemployment benefits would have added $22 billion to the debt by the end of 2011."
In 2009, only 1 in 500 American estates paid taxes. In 2008, the tax produced $25 billion for the U.S. Treasury even in a year when the stock market was battered. But barring new legislation in Congress, in 2011 the estate tax rate will jump back up to its pre-2001 level of 55%, starting at $2 million per couple. In December, the House voted 225-200 to maintain 2009's rate of 45% beginning at $3.5 million per person or $7 million per couple. But as 2009 ended, Jon Kyl led the successful GOP effort to block the bill, ensuring the temporary one-year expiration of the estate tax on January 1st, 2010:
"It's a problem that doesn't have to exist if they'll just leave the existing law alone and let the rate go to zero, which is where everyone wants it to be."
Why are Republicans so consistently morally bereft? (And why do so many Democrats take their cue from them?) Thank heavens for senators like Sheldon Whitehouse, who speak so powerfully about the plight of the unemployed:
A trio of Senate Democrats took the floor Tuesday evening to denounce the Republican party for its unwillingness to add the cost of extended unemployment benefits to the deficit. Extended unemployment benefits put in place by the stimulus bill expired on June 1, interrupting checks for some 903,000 people so far.
"I understand the point about the debt and the deficit and the spending," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "But to me, that doesn't have an enormous amount of credibility, because when President Clinton left office, he left an annual surplus... At the end of [George W. Bush's] term, we had $9 trillion in debt."
"We would have none of this if it hadn't been for the Republican debt orgy that they went through," Whitehouse said.
There are currently five jobseekers for every available opening, but a major obstacle to reauthorizing currently-expired extended benefits has been deficit concerns supplemented by the suspicion that the benefits discourage people from looking for work. Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) called the benefits, which average $320 per week, "too much of an allure." Democrats in both the House and Senate, too, have said business owners tell them they're having trouble hiring because of extended benefits.
Whitehouse confronted that argument.
"The notion that you're going to cut off somebody's unemployment insurance and have them go out and find a job is just plain nuts," said Whitehouse. "There aren't a lot of people lying around enjoying the luxury of unemployment insurance payments. They want to be getting to work."
In normal times, states provide six months of benefits to people laid off through no fault of their own, but to fight the stimulus bill and subsequent measures to fight the recession provided the unemployed 99 weeks of benefits in some states. The House passed a bill to reauthorize the benefits, along with several other now-expired domestic aid programs, but the bill is stalled in the Senate, as unified Republicans and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson withhold their support.
This is a big step in the right direction, and it's something that would go a long way toward easing national insecurity (and not incidentally, expire after the midterms, leaving a possible Republican majority with a ticking time bomb):
With unemployment still hovering in double digits and no real relief in sight, a group of 30 Senate Democrats today is urging party leaders to extend emergency unemployment benefits through the end of 2010 — 10 months longer than current law dictates. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the lawmakers argue that shorter extensions might be cheaper, but they leave state budgeters in a state of constant uncertainty.
Short term extensions, while still helpful to families, only add strain to state agencies that must constantly re-tool their computer systems, and at the same time, continue to assist the millions still searching for work. As our economy continues on a path to recovery, we need a robust extension of safety net programs that have provided a lifeline to families since the recession began.
Signing the letter were Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa), Bob Casey (Pa.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) , Chris Dodd (Conn.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Al Franken (Minn.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Roland Burris (Ill.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), John Kerry (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Edward Kaufman (Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.), as well as Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
Democratic leaders are working on legislation to tackle the continuing problems related to the economic downturn. The package is widely expected to include an extension of unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits, food stamps and help for states faced with budget crises. They’d hoped to have health care reform out of the way first. Now, that’s looking unlikely.