Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Government has taken it on the chin during the recession. For many liberals, government hasn’t done enough to pull the country out of this mess. For many conservatives, government has done way too much.
The debate in Washington has been dominated by conservatives, who have lodged any number of complaints: Government is too big, it’s a drag on the economy, it takes from the “job creators,” it’s wasteful, it pays its employees too much …. you get the point. “The government” has become the big, bad boogeyman.
Does government have problems? Absolutely. Does it get too involved in some things? Certainly. As we have noted before, there are things government can and should do better, and spending cuts will have to be made. For example, we’re not sure why the oil industry still needs billions of dollars in government subsidies. Big Oil seems to be doing just fine with its record profits.
However, despite its problems, government shouldn’t shoulder all the responsibility for this economic crisis. A host of underlying issues have contributed to this mess, including a lack of federal regulation and oversight of the financial markets. Government didn’t force those big Wall Street financial institutions to flout the rules, nor did it make them hand out loans they knew were bad just to reap quick and massive profits.
Conservatives, though, want to put the onus on government because they view the economic downturn as an opportunity to gut it for their own ideological purposes. And that’s not helping because it has taken the nation’s focus off the real issue — reinvigorating the economy. Congress should be talking about jobs, but Republicans in the House have paid only lip service to the issue.
We have heard their calls for less regulation and lower taxes for the “job creators.” The way that simplistic argument goes is, if government and regulation are cut and taxes are lowered, the economy would boomerang. However, the infamous tax cuts under President George W. Bush added tremendously to the nation’s debt, and the Bush administration’s anti-regulatory zeal didn’t help create jobs. There were a paltry 3 million jobs created in Bush’s two terms. In comparison, during the four years of Jimmy Carter’s administration, 10.5 million jobs were created.
Americans are now struggling through the worst economy since the Great Depression, and the focus should be on jobs, yet Republicans have pushed the debate toward a referendum on government.
In the House, Republicans have complained about the president’s jobs bill and bemoaned government spending and public-sector employment. As we have noted before, there will have to be cuts, but cutting government jobs is still cutting jobs.
The jaundiced, anti-government view expressed by many conservatives has overshadowed the role of government and the vital services it provides. The scope and role of government can certainly be debated, but government in and of itself shouldn’t be so easily dismissed or labeled as the root of the problem.
If conservatives want to scale back government, they should be specific. Would that mean cutting road and transportation projects? Sewer and water systems? Law enforcement, firefighters and other emergency responders? What about the military? Services to seniors? Medicare? Social Security?
Moreover, how is any of that going to help the economy rebound and put Americans back to work?
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