One man's bipartisanship is another's capitulation, which is why Republicans should resist compromising their principles by supporting President Obama's so-called stimulus package. House Republicans wisely chose to reject an $819 billion spending spree, with not a single member breaking ranks (and 11 Democrats joining them). Senate Republicans should do the same.
The point isn't to be obstructionist for its own sake. But there are important differences between the two parties on how best to stimulate the economy, and simply adopting one or two Republican amendments won't turn this sow's ear of a bill into a silk purse.
Democrats remain the party of Big Government -- and with the most liberal president since FDR now in the Oval Office, Democrats see their chance to expand the reach of government into new areas. The economic crisis is merely an excuse to do what they've always wanted -- spend more on everything from education to mass transportation. The kinds of jobs Democrats like best are those that create evermore public employees.
And why not? Government workers, especially those at the state and local level, help put Democrats in office -- or more accurately, their unions do. Just a tiny fraction of private sector workers are unionized -- less than 8 percent in 2008. But nearly 40 percent of public employees are union members and they contribute, big-time, to Democratic candidates. In 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Service Employees International Union, which represents 850,000 public service workers, spent nearly $34 million on independent expenditures in helping elect President Obama. And one of its affiliates, New York-based Local 1999, spent another $4.3 million. No wonder the Democrats want to bolster public employee union ranks.
But those government jobs are actually a drain on the economy -- not the engine of growth that Democrats like to portray. When a private company gets into economic trouble it can't simply raise prices to suit its need for profits -- it cuts expenses to keep afloat. Not so for the government. When cities and counties across the country experienced budget shortfalls from lower property taxes based on declining home values, many simply adjusted their tax rates to make up the difference.
Sure, such tactics might save a few public sector jobs -- but they do almost nothing to keep the economy healthy. Worse, raising tax rates penalizes those private sector workers who may be losing their jobs, by making them pay higher taxes so the lucky public workers can keep theirs. Now that the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, they'll dip into the federal treasury to save state and local jobs.
President Obama claims that Republicans are playing politics with the stimulus bill. Writing in the Washington Post on Thursday, he said: "In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems. … I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."
Not even the Post editors bought that argument. In an editorial opposite the president's piece, the editors noted, "As credible experts, including some Democrats, have pointed out, much of this 'long-term' spending either won't stimulate the economy now, is of questionable merit, or both."
The Democrats can, of course, pass the president's bill without help from their Republican colleagues. And President Obama will sign whatever bill emerges after the House and Senate get together to work out their disagreements. Republicans will have one last chance to suggest trims during the House-Senate conference, but the enthusiasm of Democrats to pad the public payrolls will mean any cuts are a long shot.
President Obama was wrong in his inaugural address when he said, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works." Big Government never works -- and if we try to make it work at the expense of the private sector, we'll all be worse off.