June 7, 2010

This is one of the main issues we'll be discussing at the America's Future Now conference in D.C. this week. It still astounds me that some progressives are simply ignoring the very real economic and political arguments in favor of increasing economic stimulus, not slashing it:

With voter anger about the federal deficit intensifying in this election year, Democrats in Congress are edging away from one of their long-held articles of faith — government spending on social programs such as education and relief for the jobless.

The painful tradeoff comes to center stage this week, when the Senate tries again to pass an extension of unemployment benefits — this time a $54-billion measure that marks an abrupt retreat from a $200-billion bill that Democratic leaders had proposed before the Memorial Day recess.

The stripped-down bill is just one sign of how budget anxieties are beginning to impinge on Democrats' legislative ambitions and traditional commitments.

A White House-backed proposal to spend $23 billion to save as many as 300,000 teachers' jobs has been stymied by deficit concerns. Similarly, the House, usually a bastion of liberalism, bowed to fiscal conservatives and dropped health insurance subsidies for the unemployed.

"There is a very changed climate," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) recently told reporters, referring to anti-deficit pressures she faces within her own party.

Though polls for years have shown high levels of public concern about the deficit, rarely has it outstripped most other issues. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in mid-May found a notable increase in recent months in those who believe cutting the deficit and spending should be the government's highest priority.

Gee. You don't suppose having the media keep up a constant drumbeat of anti-deficit propaganda would have anything to do with that, do you?

According to the poll, 20% of those surveyed wanted the deficit and government spending to be the top priority, an issue second to the 35% concerned about job creation and economic growth. (In a January poll, 13% cited the deficit and government spending.)

"There's no question that people are almost as concerned about the deficit and government spending as about jobs," said Mark Mellman, a pollster who works closely with congressional Democrats. "It is not just about the actual dollars — it is a metaphor for wasted money and lack of discipline and long-term economic decline."

That's because Congress - and the administration - did such a piss-poor job explaining the difference between stimulus spending and the bank bailout.

Even Friday's report that private-sector job growth had slowed to a crawl in May is not expected to offset the Democrats' new reluctance to add to the deficit for unemployment benefits.

And you know what the really stupid thing is? The Democrats will try to act like Republicans by cutting the deficit, and it won't win them any additional votes. It never does. The kind of people who like Republican policies vote for Republicans.

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