If the latest polls are to be trusted, the American electorate might be ready to give over control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans. The main logic for this transfer seems to be that although the GOP is replete with election deniers, insurrectionists, and anti-abortion fanatics, what matters is the economy, and specifically rising prices. The belief is that Republicans can do a better job at containing inflation and improving on the economic news than can Democrats. According to a recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist Poll, Republicans have a 39%-26% advantage over Democrats when people are asked who would be better at handling the economy. That includes a 40%-17% margin with independents.
Is that confidence in Republican’s handling of the economy justified?
The causes of the current inflation are complex and manifold, poor fodder for sound bites. We do know inflation is a worldwide phenomenon. It is partly the result of the pandemic, of people shifting their purchasing power from services to goods, of supply chain disruptions and lags due to this high demand for goods, as well as pandemic shut downs and slow downs. Add to that escalating energy and food costs caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war. The annual inflation rate is running about 9.1 percent in Europe and 8.3 per cent in the U.S. as of August 2022. Curbing inflation will take time, and sustained, focused effort by various actors: the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, the federal government curbing health care and other costs, government and business repairing supply chains.
Theoretically, a traditional conservative Republican Party in control of the House might contribute to curbing inflation by restraining the impulse of Democrats towards greater spending in aid of their constituents. Such restraint could arguably impede further inflationary pressures. But we don't have a traditional conservative Republican Party. Instead, we have a radical organization under the thumb of a man whose main agenda is payback, demonization and self-aggrandizement, not a party dedicated to political problem solving. If recent past is prologue, we can look to the House GOP vote on the 2021 infrastructure bill, a piece of legislation to accomplish long-delayed upgrades to what’s been widely acknowledged to be our deteriorating and outdated infrastructure. Only 13 out of 213 Republican Congressman voted for it, mainly because Trump vilified any Republican who supported the bill as a RINO – Republican In Name Only – for committing the sin of backing a major piece of legislation promoted by the Biden administration.
Looking ahead, we may ask what the Republican plan is for curbing inflation before returning them to any sort of national political power. They have none. When NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Republican Congressman Andy Barr about the Republican plan, he recited the usual assemblage of Republican talking points about crime and border security that had nothing to do with inflation. The biggest Republican argument for claiming the mantle as the anti-inflation party seems to be that there was no inflation when Trump was President. As glaringly fallacious as that reasoning is – the pandemic and post pandemic conditions that produced the current inflation didn't exist during the Trump presidency – it is nonetheless persuasive to many.
Instead of disciplined problem-solving, what we can expect from a Republican-controlled House is disorder and confusion. Some GOP House leaders have said they intend to hold the approval of a increase in the debt ceiling – the legislative measure that allows the federal government to pay bills already incurred – hostage to a demand that the Biden Administration “reverse” its “radical” policies. As the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget explains, such a default by the U.S. government, “or even the perceived threat of one, could … roil global financial markets and create chaos, since both domestic and international markets depend on the relative economic and political stability of U.S. debt instruments and the U.S. economy.”
Other than economic chaos, the Republican agenda, following their leader, seems to consist chiefly of retaliation for perceived wrongs – the Empire Strikes Back. Hunter Biden and his infamous laptop will no doubt consume many hours of congressional time and taxpayer money, no matter how inconsequential his supposed sins were. There will be pressure to impeach Biden for the crime of being the Democratic president who succeeded the Republican President who was impeach twice. Republican outrage will pursue an imagined symmetry, as though the Biden policy failure in Afghanistan – which incidentally had its roots in part in the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban – was the moral equivalent of Trump’s attempt to subvert a democratic presidential election in order to stay in power. And Kevin McCarthy has made clear that Attorney General Merrick Garland will be the subject of a House Republican inquisition for having the temerity to engage the Justice Department in a quest to reclaim top-secret government documents that the ex-president illegally absconded with and refused to return. McCarthy, who craves the speakership of the House above all else, has shown no inclination to restrain the Marjorie Taylor Greene wing of the party whose support he will need. What once was the lunatic fringe promises to become the governing center of the House majority.
In short, there’s very little indication that a Republican takeover of the House will do anything to help with inflation or the economy. There are strong indications that it will contribute to further disarray and division. Meanwhile, issues that the majority of people care about, like protecting a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive health care, will be thwarted by the implacable opposition of a Republican majority in either house of Congress.
Let’s dispel the myth that a Republican majority in Congress would improve our economy, and vote accordingly.
Robert Katz served as a senior attorney and supervising attorney at the California Supreme Court from 1993-2018. Before that he was in private practice representing public agencies, and worked as a newspaper reporter covering local government in Santa Cruz County.
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