House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, thinks our federal government should be run just like a business, and said so in his TV speech last night following President Obama’s address about raising the debt ceiling and deficit-reduction efforts.
Before I served in Congress, I ran a small business in Ohio. I was amazed at how different Washington, D.C., operated than every business in America. Where most American businesses make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, in Washington more spending and more debt is business as usual.
If there was no other reason to regard Boehner as ignorant about the government he’s made himself a part of for many years, that statement would be more than enough.
The reason is simple: the business of business is making profit, while the “business” of government is serving the people in all sorts of ways, unfortunately sometimes including waging war, based not on financial imperatives, but rather on people’s needs and preferences.
The difference is cast in stark relief when the economy is depressed. The first thing businesses do when the economy goes south is cut the payroll. Sound government economic policy in those circumstances is to shore up demand by increasing spending, thus acting as a countervailing force that discourages additional layoffs and promotes hiring.
Because tax revenues decline during recessions and depressions, stimulative spending is necessarily deficit spending. There is no harm in that. To the contrary, by limiting or reversing a downward spiral in which falling demand leads to more and more layoffs, ensuring even lower demand, government’s deficit spending is an investment in hastening recovery. Recovery brings with it revenues to reduce the deficit and start paying down the national debt.
That all goes against Republicans’ ideology. Boehner revealed part of why that ideology is out of sync with reality, bad for the economy and, if implemented, hellish for millions of Americans. It’s a matter of inappropriately imposing business imperatives and standard operating procedure on our government and the people our government serves.
Such inappropriateness isn’t attributable to ideology alone. Republicans’ recently rediscovered zeal for fiscal austerity is propelled by political ambition. By blowing up the need to raise the debt ceiling into a manufactured crisis and using that to blackmail the president and congressional Democrats into an orgy of budget slashing, Boehner and the rest of the Republicans are trying to reverse economic recovery into a downward spiral.
It all sounds so innocent, though. To hear Boehner tell it, he and his horde just want government to be as sensible and responsible as managers of businesses large and small.
The cynical truth is that what Boehner and the rest of the Republicans really want is to send the “misery index” through the roof ahead of the 2012 election. If that means financially ruining millions more working-class and middle-class Americans, bankrupting thousands more businesses, a few states and localities, so be it.
Because, what Boehner and the Republican Party are really about is the same thing President George W. Bush was really about when he set the country up for the mess it’s in: anything to win.
For an excellent, brief, yet remarkably complete synopsis of the current economic situation, see A boom in corporate profits, a bust in jobs, wages.