Just before the mid-term elections, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell candidly told the National Journal, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
If that means doing nothing to help 15 million Americans searching for work who can't find it, too bad. If that means blocking ratification of a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that's wholeheartedly backed by all the top U.S. military leaders as needed for national security, so be it.
If that means stone-walling efforts to stimulate the economy with business tax cuts, or blocking extension of expiring jobless benefits, that's the way the cookie crumbles. If that means changing the law to direct the Federal Reserve to stop paying attention to unemployment and focus solely on inflation in its monetary policy decisions, we’ll ignore the fact that core inflation is the lowest in half a century.
In short, congressional Republicans don't want conditions in the United States to improve on any front before the 2012 elections. It's also clear they have no intention of cooperating with the president on any of the myriad problems facing the country. This was particularly evident when McConnell and John Boehner, incoming speaker of the newly Republican House of Representatives, said they were too busy to meet with Obama at the White House.
Meanwhile, McConnell continues to argue that any additional attempt to stimulate the economy and create jobs wouldn't help. He says the $800 billion stimulus package passed early last year did no good because it didn’t reduce the jobless rate to less than the 8 percent Obama predicted.
Without the stimulus, millions more workers would have lost their jobs, the Congressional Budget Office and others have concluded. Obama’s prediction was wrong because the recession that followed the financial crisis turned out to be much more severe than administration economists expected. The stimulus package was therefore much too small.
The Republicans tried to cover the political nature of their true goal with an alternative explanation for why the economy didn't improve. They said businesses weren’t hiring not because of flagging demand but because of uncertainty created by Obama's agenda. That is, the effort to provide health insurance for the tens of millions of Americans without it, to correct the massive failure of regulation that allowed the financial crisis to develop, and a move to return taxes paid by high-income families to levels prior to the huge tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
Never mind that the president inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression while households struggled to make ends meet in the face of trillions of dollars of wealth lost when both home and stock prices plummeted.
Most recently the Republicans have launched an attack on the Federal Reserve, saying the decision to buy $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities was a serious mistake that would weaken the value of the dollar and lead to high inflation. As far as the dollar is concerned, their complaint ironically is exactly like those emanating from China, Russia, South Korea and Germany.
Some Republicans--most prominently Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee--have proposed changing the Fed's so-called dual mandate, which sets goals of maximum employment and stable prices. With the help of conservative columnist George Will, the Republicans, in the best Orwellian style, claim that having maximum employment in the mandate makes the Fed subject to political interference. "The Fed cannot perform such a fundamentally political function and forever remain insulated from politics, Will said."
This is typical of many arguments Republicans use to justify opposition to policies that would help the economy and the country. The reality is that Fed moves to raise interest rates to cool off an overheated economy and hold down inflation have generated strong political outbursts from both Republicans and Democrats. Many members of Congress routinely complained whenever rates went up.
In the spring of 1984, President Ronald Reagan's chief-of-staff James A. Baker III, in Reagan’s presence, told then-Fed Chairman Paul A. Volcker not to raise interest rates again. Eight years later, President George H.W. Bush and his aides bitterly complained that the Fed was so slow in reducing interest rates following the 1990-91 recession that it led to his reelection defeat. Based on history, eliminating employment from the Fed's mandate hardly would insulate it from political attacks.
In a speech last week at a central bank conference in Frankfurt, Germany, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke explained the decision to buy the Treasury securities. "Although securities purchases are a different tool for conducting monetary policy than the more familiar approach of managing the overnight interest rate, the goals and transmission mechanisms are very similar," Bernanke said. Both "lead to more accommodative financial conditions, which support household and business spending."
The point is not to weaken the dollar to make U.S. exports more competitive on world markets, but to "deliver the strong economic fundamentals that underpin the value of the dollar," Bernanke said.
Of course, a resumption of robust economic growth and a drop in unemployment might also underpin the reelection of President Obama--so obviously the Fed has to be forced to back off. Right?
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