Politics of big spending no longer cheap

Washington Post:

In February, when unpredictable Sen. Jim Bunning single-handedly stalled extensions of unemployment benefits for several days, his Republican colleagues quickly abandoned him, worried that the GOP would be cast as the party against helping people who are out of work.

Last month, as jobless benefits were again to set to expire, Bunning (Ky.) still objected to funding them in a way that would increase the deficit. But this time, nearly every Republican in the Senate joined him, leading to a month-long impasse in which more than 2 million people briefly lost their benefits. When the extension finally passed last week, only two Republicans backed the $34 billion unemployment measure, compared with 21 who had voted with Democrats in March.

That stand-off illustrated the dynamics that have defined Capitol Hill over the last few months.

After the highly partisan debates on the economic stimulus and health care that dominated the first 15 months of the Obama administration, Democratic leaders, conscious that many members of their party have become wary of being tagged by Republicans as big spenders, intentionally decided to push less controversial measures.

But the barrage of "no" votes from the GOP has not abated. Emboldened by sagging approval ratings of the Democratic-controlled Congress, Republicans almost unanimously opposed a bill to overhaul the financial regulatory system that President Obama signed into law; they are against a measure to increase the disclosure of campaign spending by corporations; and they've largely eliminated the chance of passing a series of measures Democrats say could help the economy.

Their opposition turned unemployment benefits, usually an issue with little political controversy, into an intense clash between the parties.

Republicans say polls suggest that they can oppose all of these initiatives by casting them into a broader critique of Democrats increasing the size of government and the budget deficit, even if their bills are individually popular with the public.

...
The Republicans have gotten the message of the Tea Party voters and voters at large. The Democrats have overspent and are finding little support for continued high deficits. The Republicans have not opposed the extended benefits outright. They just insist that Democrats offset them with cuts in other spending.

Speaker Pelosi swerved into a trap on the issue when she claimed that unemployment benefits create jobs. However dubious that assertion, the GOP suggested that the extensions be funded with already appropriated stimulus funds. All of a sudden the benefits were not creating jobs.

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