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Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010

The Politics of No

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In some cases, perhaps the best we can hope for from our politicians is that they’re lying to us. If they actually believe some of the things they say, we’re in really big trouble.

We have perfect examples in the Republican opposition to economic stimulus funds nationally and Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker’s opposition to economic stimulus and job creation in Wisconsin.

In speeches to conservatives last weekend, presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Indiana Congressman Mike Pence proudly embraced the description of Republicans as “The Party of No.”

Romney said Republicans should be proud of saying “No!” to the terrible agenda of President Barack Obama. Pence even got the crowd shouting “No!” over and over as he listed such heinous ideas as “More spending,” “More borrowing” and “More bailouts.”

In other words, whenever a nation is plunged into a devastating economic crisis with millions of people losing their jobs, the response of their government should be to do absolutely nothing.

That’s the old Can’t-Do Republican Spirit.

Of course, the total hypocrisy of Republicans voting against economic stimulus funds became apparent when someone put together videos of anti-stimulus congressmen cutting ribbons and holding up super-sized checks taking credit for federal spending in their home districts that saved or created jobs.

Independent experts estimate nearly 2 million jobs were saved or created by the $787 billion federal stimulus program passed a year ago that kept America from sliding into the dust-bowl abyss of the 1930s. As hurting as the country remains, imagine how shrill the Republican attacks on President Obama would be today if 2 million more Americans were out of work.

Scott Walker’s Many Faces

Locally, Milwaukee County Executive Walker is a prime example of a Republican politician who attacks federal stimulus assistance for state and local governments while grabbing huge fistfuls of the stuff.

A year ago, Walker launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor with the attention-getting announcement that even though Milwaukee County was on the brink of bankruptcy under his leadership, he had no intentions of applying for any of that horrible federal stimulus money.

That may have been a kick in the teeth for jobless residents in an urban county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. But it was music to the ears of conservatives who oppose government spending for anything except for more enormous, gift-wrapped tax cuts for the wealthy.

The good news for residents who were desperately in need of work was that Walker was lying.

Oh sure, Walker made a public show of not applying to federal stimulus funds until he was dragged kicking and screaming into it by the County Board, which had the bizarre idea that Milwaukee County’s unemployed had as much right to federal stimulus money as anyone else in America.

In fact, one of the biggest local expenditures of federal stimulus funds so far has been the $26 million that went to buy new buses for the Milwaukee County Transit System. Poor people need public transportation to get to jobs.

That’s not all. In the 2010 budget, Walker actually tripled annual borrowing for capital projects to nearly $90 million to take advantage of reimbursement for interest costs included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

That’s the formal name for those federal economic stimulus funds, savagely pilloried by Walker and other Republicans.

Walker reverted to form in attacking the use of nearly a billion dollars in federal stimulus funds to create jobs and economic development in Wisconsin by building a high-speed rail system from Chicago to Milwaukee and from Milwaukee to Madison.

Walker and other Republicans actually are attacking an $823 million economic windfall for Wisconsin just because it was announced by Obama, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the probable Democratic nominee for governor in November.

What could be the possible objection to creating thousands of jobs in the state to build a national high-speed train system of the future connecting Milwaukee and Madison to St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis and eventually other major cities?

The biggest complaint Republicans have been able to invent is that the state is not assured of federal subsidies for all operating costs. Modest operating costs between Milwaukee and Madison could be more than paid for with new economic development along the route and reduced highway maintenance and expansion as a result of taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the freeway.

Again, if Walker ever did have a chance of becoming governor, we should all hope he’s not telling the truth about refusing more than $800 million in federal funds for employment and development.

Republicans want to tap into the anger of people who don’t think government is doing enough to ease the financial hardships of ordinary people in this economic crisis.

Wait until the people realize the Republican alternative is to do nothing.


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