“Dear Mr. President,” the Republican leadership wrote in a letter late last week,
Thank you for your address to a Joint Session of the Congress last night, and for presenting your ideas. We believe creating long-term, sustainable jobs must be the top priority for elected leaders of both parties, and it is our desire to work with you to find common ground on steps that can be taken to allow our economy to grow and to create those jobs. While we have a different vision in terms of what is needed to boost private-sector job creation in our country, we believe your ideas merit consideration by the Congress, and believe the American people expect them to be given such consideration.The best we can hope for is that this is just shameless, disingenuous politicking, and no major job bill will become law. Unfortunately, the buzz is that the Republicans fear a backlash if they are too partisan in response to the president’s gestures over the next year. The public, we hear, is sick of the adversarial posture of the two parties and seeks more cooperation.
Yet what could we possibly expect from a meeting of the minds on this? There is but one component of Obama’s plan that Republicans are often warm to that is also a victory for liberty: slashing payroll taxes. Indeed, as I’ve argued on the Beacon before, this tax should be cut as much as possible, and it is a sad thing that some conservatives don’t jump on these cuts when they are proposed by the other side.
I do not expect an up-or-down vote on payroll taxes, however. I expect the meat of Obama’s plan—more government spending to shore up the job market–to be the focal point of any major legislation that passes Congress and is signed by the president. Although such a bill would smack of mild socialism or the planned economy, there is no reason Republicans can’t get behind it, at least as far as their own demonstrated principles would allow. The president is correct to note that most of what he’s proposing is the kind of government intervention that the Republicans have supported repeatedly in the past.
It is interesting that Obama has downplayed the emphasis on “green jobs” in this appeal—but the ominous implication is he, too, might be trying to meet in the middle and get something passed. There is still this environmentalist corporatism in play, if you dig deeply, but it is not front and center as in the past. We could speculate that this shift in focus is in part prompted by the downfall of Solyndra, a bankrupt solar company that was raided recently, having been one of Obama’s favorite recipients of green pork and a firm he insisted was solvent and strong. But that would be speculation.
The economic bottom line is that America doesn’t need more spending to spur job growth. The problem with the economy is not aggregate demand, the key premise in today’s Keynesian proposals to fix the market being totally wrongheaded. As Robert Higgs has argued, the problem is lack of private investment—and investment, particularly the kind of sustainable investment independent of government subsidy, is what is most needed to get the economy growing strong again. The biggest impediment is government—the atmosphere of regulation and the taxing. We need less government, not more, if we want a full recovery as fast as possible. Republicans say they understand this, but they don’t always vote as if they do.
Which brings us to the political bottom line: When you see the two parties getting along, hold onto your wallet and take account of your remaining liberties. The political process is adversarial for a reason. If you believe in the civic textbook ideal of democracy or republican governance, you are supposed to favor competition and conflict in the political process, not cooperation. If the public indeed wants less partisanship, as we are often told is the case, this is a tragedy. Even by the standards of those who believe in the system, it is supposed to work by having at least two parties (or groups of interests) with different ideological outlooks on the major issues. And from the standpoint of those who cherish liberty, having two sides fighting in Washington means that at least one is fighting against any given piece of legislation, which is generally better than both sides agreeing.
I heard John Gibson say the other day on the radio that the reason the two parties don’t get things done is because they believe in fundamentally different things. Does anyone actually buy this? Both parties favor growing government at home, war, attacks on our civil liberties, and a mixed economic system where businesses exist upon the good graces of the state. It is true that they posture for or against any given bill for partisan reasons—Democrats opposing Medicare D when it was proposed by Bush and Republicans opposing raising the debt ceiling when it was pushed by Obama are two of a thousand examples—but this kind of partisanship, as transparently amoral as it is, at least slows things down a tad. As ugly as partisan opportunism is, it is generally better than bipartisanship, over 90% of which results in terrible legislation and depredations of our freedom.