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“Is GOP trying to sabotage economy to hurt Obama?”

That’s the headline on yesterday’s Associated Press story by Charles Babington. The headline appeared on the main Yahoo page, which is far more heavily trafficked than any newspaper, and was picked up, based on a Google News search, by several hundred newspapers. The article doesn’t conclude that Republicans are deliberately hurting the economy, of course. That wasn’t the idea: the idea was to attribute plausibility to what is in fact a laughable suggestion.

In order to either help or hurt the economy, Republicans would have to 1) enact policies that would do one or the other, or 2) block the Democrats from enacting policies that would do one or the other. The Republicans haven’t enacted anything since the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, so the theory has to be that the GOP has blocked something that otherwise would have helped. In fact, however, the Democrats have been able to enact the major components of their economic plan, including the stimulus–perhaps the most dismal failure of any legislative initiative in American history–and Obamacare. Democrats have caused discretionary spending to skyrocket and have run up $5 trillion in new debt since President Obama took office. So they have pretty much had their way.

It is true that Republicans have been able to block a few Democratic proposals, like cap and trade and card check. But those proposals would have damaged the economy even further, and Democrats should be thankful to Republicans for stopping them. So how, exactly, could the GOP be “trying to sabotage the economy to hurt Obama?”

The AP story offers two possible answers. First, John Boehner has said that he will not agree to another increase in the debt limit unless the Democrats agree to spending cuts. But why would that hurt the economy? If more government spending were the path to prosperity, we would all be lighting cigars with $100 bills. I created this chart last summer to track federal spending against total payroll jobs. Another year of data is available since then, but the trend lines would be the same. Since the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, federal spending has boomed. Has that spending been good for the economy? You be the judge:

It would be much more sensible for the AP to suggest that the Democrats are deliberately injuring the economy by increasing spending and running up more debt (not to mention deliberately driving the cost of energy higher).

The AP suggests a second reason why Republicans might be “trying to sabotage the economy.” This is the fact that under current law, after the first of the year taxes will jump and spending will be cut, or anyway won’t increase quite as fast:

Regardless of whether Schumer’s suspicions are right, there’s evidence that unceasing partisan gridlock and the prospect of big tax increases and spending cuts in January are causing some companies to postpone expansions. Even small economic slowdowns are bad news for Obama, who is seeking re-election amid high unemployment. …

The most obvious showdown will happen soon after the Nov. 6 election. Unless a lame-duck Congress can make deals, the economy will suffer a double whammy of large tax increases and spending cuts, starting Jan. 1. The tax increases would hit virtually every working American and the spending cuts would affect military and domestic programs.

But wait! Why is it the Republicans’ fault that businesses are spooked by the prospect of giant tax increases after January 1? It was the Democrat-controlled Congress that scheduled the current tax rates to expire in 2013, conveniently after the election. And it is the Democrats, not the Republicans, who want some or all of those tax rates to increase. So it is mind-bendingly perverse to blame the job-destroying prospect of higher taxes on Republicans. The AP supplies this further explanation:

Economists say that what Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke calls a “fiscal cliff” could possibly lead to another severe recession.

He is referring to the possibility that the federal government may not get control over its out-of-control spending and trillion-dollar-plus deficits. But again, whose fault is that? The most elementary starting point for getting our fiscal house in order, and thereby reassuring financial markets, is to enact a budget that charts a course out of our current death spiral. The Republican House has passed such a budget; the Democratic Senate refuses to do so, in violation of the law. In fact, the Democrats refuse to commit themselves to any budget, including their own President’s! No wonder the financial markets are spooked.

As Speaker Boehner points out, the Republican House has passed approximately 30 job-creation measures which Harry Reid refuses to allow the Senate to vote on. So if any party is being obstructionist, if any party is going out of its way to damage the economy, it is the Democrats.

The fact is that the Democrats have had their way in Washington for some years now. The results have been disastrous. What is really significant in the AP’s attempt to provide cover for the Democrats is the implicit admission that their policies have had disappointing results. If the Democrats’ years in power had been successful, they would be crowing about their results and claiming credit. Instead, they are trying, however unfairly, to spread the blame. That tells you all you need to know.

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