Friday, February 18, 2011

So be it?

House Speaker John Boehner – the self-avowed small government guru who last September said of the Pentagon, "There's got to be wasteful spending there, unnecessary spending there, it all ought to be eliminated" – went to the mat this past Wednesday in a desperate effort to save a multi-billion-dollar fighter jet engine project that even the Pentagon considers to be, in the words of Defense secretary Robert Gates, "an unnecessary and extravagant expense." 

Boehner, who on Tuesday showed no concern about draconian Republican spending cuts that would put hundreds of thousands of federal workers on the street (in his words, "so be it"), the next day hypocritically sought to save a jet engine project that the Pentagon has been trying to kill since the George W. Bush era. 

The "unnecessary and extravagant" project is headquartered at a General Electric plant in Ohio. The jet engine project provides jobs to 1000 people in Ohio. Without that project, there will be 1000 more people on the street in Ohio.

"We're broke," Boehner said on Tuesday – but just twenty-four hours later, he said that we are not too broke to help the workers of Ohio. Care to guess why Boehner took such a strong stand in favor of this particular wasteful spending? 

That’s right. Boehner is from Ohio.

By the way, Boehner said he was fine with government worker layoffs because, in his calculation, President Obama had created "200,000" federal jobs. Wrong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the factual figure is roughly 58,000.)

So, Boehner, who last autumn promised "fiscal discipline," and who this week shrugged off the prospect of thousands of federal worker layoffs with "so be it," saw fit to carve out a convenient exception for his own backyard. He did not care if fiscal non-discipline was required to save Ohio workers from the privations that he is willing to visit upon everyone else.

Then "so be it" magically becomes "it will not be." It is all well and good to voice the desire to cut government spending...until the consequences of the cuts hit too close to home. 

Assuming that Boehner is not as heartless as his words sound and that he really believes that reduced spending will bring about a better environment for job creation in America, a more balanced budget could possibly improve the job market in the very long run. But in the short run, the cuts Boehner and his caucus propose would cause a shock to the economy that would slow, if not reverse, the recovery. 

The Washington Post reported that the $59 billion cuts for the last half of fiscal 2011 would lead to the loss of 650,000 government jobs, and the indirect loss of 325,000 more jobs as fewer government workers travel and buy things. That is nearly 1 million jobs – possibly enough to tip the economy back into recession.

And however pure Boehner's motives may be, the dirty truth is that a stall in the recovery would bring political benefits to the Republicans in the 2012 elections. It is in their political interest for unemployment to remain high for the next two years. 

"So be it" is callous but politically rational.