Republicans hated the 2009 stimulus package. They claimed that it amounted to mostly wasteful spending. They criticized the effort, spearheaded by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), saying that it embraced the famous statement by former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, "You don't ever want a crisis to go to waste; it's an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid." But could Republicans be guilty of utilizing a similar strategy in their quest to cut the deficit?
First, let's better define the Republicans' complaint. As mentioned, they believe that Democrats used the economic crisis as an excuse to pay back every special interest group to which they owed a political debt. Republicans considered it a wish list bill that contained spending the left had been aching to do for years. Instead of a legitimate attempt to stimulate the economy, they believed that Democrats were essentially using the $787 billion bill for political gain.
The Republicans' criticisms may have been on the right track. The impact of the stimulus did not live up to the expectations that Democrats had set. Job gains due to the stimulus are claimed to have been a few million, but those numbers are based on multipliers and other theoretical economic projection techniques -- not tangible reports that can be easily verified. Democrats failed to include enough "shovel ready" programs to get more Americans working immediately.
Although Republicans' criticism may have been fair, they might be acting in a similar way now that they have a strong majority in the House. They appear to be taking advantage of the latest crisis to their own benefit. Now, the big problem in Washington is the ballooning U.S. deficit. Republicans are demanding that spending be cut -- but not just any spending. Some of the cuts they're insisting on look just as desirable to conservative special interests as the Democrats' spending was to liberal special interests. Here's an excerpt from a Washington Post article by Paul Kane explaining why Congress is headed towards a shutdown:
Republicans are adamant about proceeding this way because it allows the conversation to begin with their policy riders, some of which they insist on including in the final package. The most controversial include restrictions and limitations on federal funds going toward health services at Planned Parenthood; the implementation of Obama's health-care law that was approved last year; and the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate carbon emissions.
It may be true that spending on these programs is wasteful or unnecessary. But if Republicans really want to prove that they're serious about cutting spending on a bipartisan basis, then they must push aside convenient political goals -- just like they asked Democrats to do when it came to the stimulus bill. If the House Republicans insist on cutting programs that the left loves, then they should also cut some programs that the right prefers or be willing to raise taxes.
This is even more important in light of the divided government. Remember, whatever budget House Republicans eventually pass must also be blessed by the Senate and President. Democrats controlled the government back in 2009, so it was easier for them to spend as they pleased. In this case, Republicans must find ways to compromise if they insist on significant, immediate cuts in spending.