By Mark Mellman - 02/10/09 05:43 PM EST
Which is it? Does Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsRepublican opposition to raising the minimum wage Is crumbling 5 takeaways from the Indiana Senate debate GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE hate kids or love property taxes?
I know we are supposed to be post-partisan, lavishing praise on Sen. Collins (Maine) for breaking ranks with her Republican colleagues to support the president’s jobs and economic recovery bill, but I just cannot get the question out of my head.
Collins and too few of her colleagues do deserve credit for putting the national interest ahead of their party’s electoral strategy, the central tenet of which has become opposition to economic recovery.
One element of the Republicans’ obstructionist strategy is to undercut the president’s post-partisan image. No matter how much he reaches out, listening to Republicans, even incorporating their ideas in his proposals, GOP leaders believe that by denying him Republican votes they can deny him a claim to bipartisanship.
So far, this component of the strategy is not working so well. According to the latest CNN poll, three-quarters believe the president is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans in Congress, but only 39 percent feel that congressional Republicans are being sufficiently cooperative.
Even more important, the GOP wants to ensure the economy is still in lousy shape on Election Day 2010, hoping voters will have forgotten by then that it is George Bush’s recession and punish Democrats at the ballot box.
How else do we explain Republican opposition to creating or saving 3-4 million jobs? How else to explain Republican opposition to reducing our dependence on foreign oil? How else to explain Republican opposition to repairing crumbling roads, bridges and schools?
The party that championed wasting a trillion dollars on Iraq and ran up the biggest deficit in human history is surely not opposed merely because the plan increases government spending.
With 80 percent telling Gallup they believe it is important to pass a stimulus plan, and with voters more likely to support a larger rather than smaller stimulus, it is not fear of public retribution that prevents Republicans from backing the bill.
Rather, Republicans recognize what most every economist also knows — that failure to pass this bill means higher unemployment, lower growth and more misery. Voting for misery only makes sense if the GOP believes that the pain will redound to their political benefit by turning voters against the Democrats, now vested with control.
That brings us back to Sen. Collins, who deserves commendation for her willingness to put the nation’s interests ahead of her party’s. But her decision to put her stake in the ground over driving a stake in the heart of education is inexplicable.
Voters clearly recognize the centrality of improving education for our economy — more identify education spending as one of the most important components of the stimulus than say that about any other element — putting education five points ahead of tax cuts for individuals, 14 points ahead of infrastructure spending and 26 points ahead of business tax cuts.
Yet, in the name of job creation, Sen. Collins wants to throw hundreds of thousands of teachers out of work, increase class sizes and prevent kids from getting new textbooks. In one Midwestern state alone, estimates suggest that if Collins’s cuts are sustained, 2,000 teachers will be fired, increasing class sizes for nearly 50,000 students.
Of course, communities do have a choice — they could raise local property taxes to protect their schools. Yet Republicans have argued that increasing taxes in the midst of a recession is bad medicine. Indeed, stimulating a property tax hike would make a mockery of the federal tax cuts that Democrats, and a few Republicans, support.
Democrats should embrace Republicans willing to support an improved economy, but alas, part of their prescription will only make the disease worse.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.