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What Georgia voters need to know

What Georgia voters need to know
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At shelters for battered spouses, counselors say it again and again: Don’t go back to your abuser. Georgia voters who will decide whether Republicans stay in control of the Senate ought to think about that. The Obama years taught us that, when a Democrat is president, congressional Republicans are the party of economic stagnation. Given another chance, they will just smack you again.

It is the undisputed intention of the Republicans to minimize the big stimulus that the Federal Reserve has been begging for. One analysis estimated that spending $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion would increase growth by as much as 4.5 percent. But that can’t be allowed to happen, because it would help the Democrats keep the presidency. An agonizingly slow recovery is likely. Biden will be blamed for it. We have seen this show before. 

When 2020 exit pollsters asked which one policy was most important to voters, they found that the top pick was the economy, named by 35 percent of voters. This issue favored Republicans: 82 percent of these voters say they voted for President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE, only 17 percent for Biden.

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But now, what kind of economy are they likely to get? In October, a few hours before Trump tweeted that there would be no more stimulus talks before the election, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, a Republican Trump appointee, called on Congress to pass a large stimulus bill. “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” he said. “Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy, and holding back wage growth. By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller.” 

With Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.) as Senate majority leader, it won’t happen. In 2009, amid economic catastrophe, Republicans opposed Obama’s already inadequate stimulus, offering an alternative that consisted of almost nothing but tax cuts. (Since Obama didn’t need their votes, they may have judged that this irresponsible posturing would be harmless, at least in the short run.)  When Republicans retook the House in 2010, they suddenly became obsessed with deficit reduction, guaranteeing that any recovery would be long and slow. (They later forgot all about that when they enacted the massive Trump tax cut.) States that lost tax revenue in the recession were forced to cut their budgets, so despite Obama’s spending, overall government spending actually decreased: there was really no stimulus at all. And so, as Trump loved to point out, Obama presided over the slowest recovery since World War II.

McConnell’s first priority will likely be to make Biden’s presidency fail. In 2010, McConnell said that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And here we are again.

And then there’s Trump. McConnell is a ruthless political gamesman, but he does care about the country. One could not imagine McConnell endangering Americans by deliberately concealing the truth about a deadly, contagious disease for short-term political advantage.

Trump, on the other hand, is a creature of pure emotion, and for the foreseeable future the pertinent emotion will be rage at Biden. Anything Biden is for, Trump will be against.  One can imagine Trump credibly threatening to end the political career of any Republican who votes for a Biden-supported program of free COVID-19 vaccinations for those who cannot afford them. The Republicans’ craven response to Trump’s claims of election fraud shows that he can still push them around. In short, with a Republican Senate, Trump could badly hurt the country if he wants to. Would you like to take bets that he won’t want to?

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After the election, Treasury bond yields plunged. Investors now expect a skinny stimulus, consequent slower growth and the Fed responding with easier monetary policy, which is the only tool it has to compensate for congressional stinginess. The Fed is seriously limited in its capacity to deal with recession. It can enrich investors. It can’t keep people from losing their homes, or help anyone pay the rent. It can’t extend unemployment benefits. It can’t help marginal small businesses survive the winter: Only about 60 percent of those that remain think that they can. It can’t shore up state services. It can’t keep state public health departments from cutting their staffs in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. 

A Republican Senate will be a continuing drag on the economy. Someone should tell the voters of Georgia.

Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University, is the author of “Gay Rights vs. Religious Liberty? The Unnecessary Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2020). Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoppelman.