Congressional Republicans rightly opposed the stimulus leviathan last year on the grounds that it wouldn't spur job growth -- or at least, not as much as cutting taxes and liberating the economy's true job creators - small businesses. In rare but classic political form, Republicans managed to draw a line in the sand, clearly pitting their arguments for an American economic renaissance versus a Democratic plan that was headed for certain doom. Fair enough.
Yet over the past year, it seems as though Republicans are on the verge of falling off the spending wagon and reverting to the bad habits of their Democratic counterparts. Most recently, Republicans in Congress have quietly viewed the stimulus as a sort of slush fund behind which they can hide their own political cowardice. For example, it's not easy to tell seniors and veterans who want more money in the form of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that, well, there was no inflation last year, so you're not going to get that increase. Never mind that our nation's entitlement programs are beyond broke. In fact, their dire situation makes Greece look as though it's awash in cash. But how does an elected official say no to seniors and vets - the strongest of voting blocs? Following last week's actions, apparently they don't have to.
After railing for months on White House spending profligacy, Senate Republicans lined up for their share. They voted in hushed circles for an amendment - offered by Sen. Richard Burr (NC), a Republican - that would have given seniors and vets an additional COLA increase of $250 this year. So long as the money came from previously unobligated stimulus funds, the senators felt that money could be used for something they felt was good and right.
A marvelous political calculation, right? They knock out a few birds with this stone. Congressional Republicans get to remind people that the stimulus isn't working and could be used for better things. They further get to tell seniors and vets they voted to give them checks, but the Democrats preferred to use that money to grow the government and oppose Republicans. And, at the end of the day, since they lost, at least money won't be spent on COLAs that, in their heart of hearts, Republicans didn't really think these folks deserved anyway. Is this the current GOP playbook on how to win back the Congress - find a way to look like you're serious about the nation's financial straits, yet still toss around the dollars like you're printing them in the Senate cloakroom??
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