The GOP midterm election strategy is clear: stubbornly oppose anything and everything that might improve the economy and bank on voters to blame Democrats for these tough times come November.
There is perhaps no clearer sign of the poisonous political environment this stance has created than the battle to pass a $26 billion package to help states and local governments make Medicaid payments and avoid laying off 140,000 teachers. The only way Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to break a Republican filibuster was with offsets largely through—if you can believe it—$12 billion in cuts to food stamps.
That’s right. Never mind that many people using food stamps are already living through a depression, not a recession. Never mind that food stamps are one of the most reliable ways to stimulate spending—those receiving the benefit are definitely going to pump that money back into the economy by purchasing goods.
But the food stamp lobby doesn’t have quite the same pull as the Chamber of Commerce or US corporations—which have seen their profits rise by 36 percent this year and enjoy profit margins as a share of GDP that are near post-war records—or the states themselves which face $140 billion in budget shortfalls in the upcoming year.
Even worse, Reid initially had to table this proposal because the (all hail the) Congressional Budget Office said the bill would still add $4.9 billion to the deficit when Democratic leadership proposed cutting "only" $6.7 billion in food stamps. By nearly doubling that food stamp cut the Democrats won the votes of Republican Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to break the filibuster.
The political calculus is stunning: $1 trillion-plus for the banks—no problem. $10 billion for teachers and $16 billion to help the poor get healthcare? Only if it’s deficit-neutral. What’s next? Maybe they can axe some low-income energy assistance during these hot summer months?
With this kind of downsized politics in the Senate, so many good proposals are left foundering. Take the infrastructure bank proposed by Michael Lind and Sherle Schwenninger of the New America Foundation, and others. Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson recently wrote that it would break the cycle of businesses receiving federal help, laying off workers, slashing benefits, and shipping jobs and production overseas—all while hoarding cash.