Sense and Idiocy

Ezra Klein interviews Sen. Debbie Stabenow:

Let’s start with the disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans don’t oppose extending unemployment benefits, they say. They oppose paying for them through deficit spending. Why are they wrong about this? Why not just pay for the bill?

Well, first of all, unemployment extensions have never, under a Democratic or Republican president, been funded other than through emergency spending [which is a technical designation that allows for deficit spending — Ezra]. I’ve said it 100 times: if 15 million people out of work isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is. The second issue is that in order to get the stimulative effect out of it, the spending needs to be done on the deficit. Economists will tell you that. And third, Republicans want to pay for it from taking money away from the recovery dollars. Those are dollars being used to create jobs in construction and manufacturing incentives and alternative energy. To take money from job creation to fund unemployment benefits makes no sense.

Republicans I’ve spoken to say they don’t believe those stimulus dollars are effective. In negotiations, do they propose a different recovery plan?

Republicans would say that you grow the economy through supply-side tax cuts. They don’t think you should pay for a large estate tax cut, for instance. Extending the Bush tax cuts should not be paid for. I had this conversation with Sen. Grassley last night. To him, the Bush tax cuts are stimulative and should not be paid for. But when it comes to working men and women, working-class people who’ve been hit in this recession through no fault of their own, the rules are different. And I’d say we have to focus on the job crisis to tackle the deficit crisis. We’ll never get out of deficit with over 15 million people not working.

In a few months, the Senate will have to decide whether to extend the Bush tax cuts at a cost to the deficit that will dwarf the unemployment insurance extension by many orders of magnitude. Republicans can’t do it on their own, but observers seem to think Democrats will partner with them to get it done. If the deficit is such a big issue for the people in the middle, how can that happen?

First, we won’t extend them in total, no. It’s the middle-class tax cuts that might be extended. There is an argument that when we look at things like the 10 percent tax rate for working families or the middle-class income tax cuts or the child tax credit or the earned income tax credit, that those at least are going to the Americans who are consuming, spending and creating economic activity. But you raise a fair point. Will this deficit argument apply to everything? Or just policies for working men and women?

The Senate has been forced to consider these unemployment benefit extensions every few months because it has only passed extensions for a few months at a time. Why has the time-frame for these extensions been so short?

We’re doing it as long as we can and still get the votes. This particular extension goes through November 30th rather than December 30th, which makes no logical sense other than that that’s how much people were willing to vote for. I would argue that this should definitely be done on a yearly basis.

It’s safe to say, I think, that Democrats will return from the midterm elections with fewer seats in the Senate. That will make passing legislation even more difficult. But so far as I know, there’s no effort moving forward to include reconciliation instructions allowing Democrats to pass jobs bills with 51 votes. Why not?

I’ll put my budget committee hat on now. It was our intent in a budget resolution to include those instructions. And we passed such a resolution out of committee. The question is we have a technical issue now. If we don’t do a budget resolution, if we use another approach to set spending limits, that raises a question as to whether reconciliation will be available.

Maybe you can explain this to me, as I’ve been slightly confused: What’s the hold-up on a budget resolution?

We passed a bill out of committee in April or May. We were ready to go. There were problems in the House. This was actually more about the House. They had disagreements. And then it got complicated with what’s happened in the Senate, as there’s so much slowdown. No one thought we’d spend eight weeks in this jobs bill. We had intended to bring a budget resolution up. And the strategy of the Republicans is to slow walk everything to stop us from getting things done and create as much chaos as possible.

Expand on that argument for me: People tend to think that the issue with the filibuster is that it requires a supermajority to break. But when I speak to senators, they talk more about its tendency to slow the functioning the chamber.

In the case of this jobs bill, there were negotiations going on for eight weeks. We had three different votes on filibusters. In between, we were working, trying to get more votes by changing the bill. And this is why Reid’s job is so difficult. It takes a week to a vote on a filibuster. You file a petition, then you have to stop and do nothing for two days. Then you vote on stopping the filibuster. Then you have to wait 30 hours before you can substantively pick up whatever it was you were filibustering. Every time they object, it takes a week. We’ve now had 244 objections with 80 or so actual filibusters, and we don’t have 244 weeks to do this. When they object to a nominee, if we’re going to overcome that and get that nominee confirmed, that will take a week. And that’s why they’ve objected to over 100 nominees. We don’t have 100 weeks. Every time there’s an objection, Sen. Reid has to determine if he has the potential to get 60 votes, if this is enough of a priority to take a week on it. He has very complicated decisions to make on these things.

Ah, come on. The Republicans don’t actually “believe” any of this crap. It’s all a game to them. Can we stop pretending they’re a principled opposition? Only in the sense that they’re opposed to anything Democrats want — on principle.