A preliminary note: The National Football League season isn't over yet. There is still the all-star game, called the Pro Bowl, to be played this Sunday. Therefore, football references and analogies are still permitted. Thank you.
More than 100 million people watched the Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl last Sunday. The Steelers are one of the great stories, and great organizations, in sport, having won their sixth Super Bowl championship, the most of any team.
The good people of Detroit, however, got something a little extra courtesy of WDIV, Channel 4, the local affiliate of NBC, the network broadcasting the game. While former Detroit Lions player and former Lions president Matt Millen was on camera as part of the network's game commentary team, the station ran this "crawl" underneath the picture: "Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports? ..."
Until he was fired last September, Millen presided over a team that went on to lose every game last season. The Lions went 0-16, setting records for futility. (Because of the length of the NFL season, that's a record, topping the Tampa Bay Bucs, who went 0-14 in 1976, the year the Florida team joined the league.) Millen's teams won only 31 games while losing 84 since he took over in 2001. Of course, the TV station got lots of cheers from the bleachers for that one from columnists and fans alike.
Imagine if Millen or the Lions thought they had something to teach the Steelers about winning. Do you think any Steeler player, employee or fan would take what seriously what the Lions had to say? Wouldn't the Steeler owners, the Rooney family, think there would be a "credibility issue?"
And so it is with the Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell and John McCain, who show up every day on television to blather about the urgent need to have their ideas incorporated into the stimulus/investment bill now making its way through the Congress or else they won't support it. The House passed its version last week, the Senate has the bill on the floor now. The McConnell-McCain mantra is standard stuff - there has to be less spending and more tax cuts, or else the bill will fail, dragging the new Obama administration with it. Never mind the economic consequences.
Calling Matt Millen. Let's take a brief look at the Republican economic record since 2001. President Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion. The deficit is on its way to $1 trillion. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Bush Administration had predicted a surplus of $710 billion by now. Does anyone think there's a similar "credibility issue" here?
It's fairly easy to track how the budget that started out with a surplus became a gaping money pit. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, here's how the increases break down. Spending increases on things we can control, called discretionary spending, accounted for six percent of the increase. Increases in entitlements, like food stamps, Medicare or Social Security, added another 12 percent. Spending for defense, aka the wasted war, made up 40 percent. And the biggest reason for the spiraling deficit, accounting for 42 percent of the change - the tax cuts enacted by the Republican Congress, pushed by the Republican Administration.
Tax cuts were an all-purpose mantra. Have a budget surplus? Cut taxes and return the money to the people. Have a deficit? Cut taxes and stimulate the economy. That the taxes were weighted toward the wealthiest tax payers and corporations didn't matter. Here's the bottom line: The Republican prescription for the economy failed. That's why we're in the mess we're in now. The war poured trillions of non-productive dollars down a rat hole. The tax cuts produced nothing for the economy but a bunch of rich people, some of whom are proceeding to continue to rip us off again.
It's not like spending a few million dollars and the end result is, say, a bridge. Building the bridge puts people to work, and then the bridge helps people and good flow throughout an area. Even fixing the National Mall (where the Washington Monument is located, not a bunch of stores), for a relatively little $20 million, would pump up businesses of sod growers and landscapers, with the end result being a little patch of Washington of which millions of visitors could be proud. The House Republicans wanted that bit taken out of the $816 billion bill, and the nice Democrats complied. Lot of good it did them.
The people responsible for this mess, the Republican leadership, are now front and center demanding that their conditions be made part of the bill. We saw this act in the House last week. The leadership and President Obama, trying to make nice, gave a little and got nothing in return.
Now, the Republican senators are producing Act II of the same silly play that would be funny if it weren't so tragic.
Doesn't anyone think this team has a little "credibility issue" of its own? How can anyone take these guys seriously on economic policy? Agree or disagree on their philosophy; their record is demonstrably terrible. They are the Detroit Lions of Congress. They led their team to a totally defeated season, wrecking not the hopes of a devoted fan base, but the dreams of millions of people, tens and tens of thousands of whom are losing jobs every week. They obviously have no shame, because they keep insisting on the same old, tired policies that haven't worked and they don't want to admit it. They avert their eyes from the scoreboard, insisting their team has produced better results.
The Democrats, the Steelers, have a demonstrably better record. The economy performs better when Democrats are in office, even if they have to sacrifice themselves for the better good. That's what happened with the 1993 tax increases needed to cure the Bush I recession, which the Republicans didn't support, but on which they ran to take away Congress from the Democrats who saved the jobs of thousands of their constituents.
By all means, let the woeful Detroit Lions call the plays for the world champion Steelers. The parade would be in Phoenix, not in the Steel City. But it is our economy, not a game, that is at stake, and those serious about fixing the economy shouldn't have to give in to a team with a failed game plan. Keith and Rachel, let's see you run a "credibility issue" crawl across the screen when the Republicans defend their tanking of the economic investment bill: "Given their economic track record, these senators have a credibility issue on this legislation." No one else would have the wherewithall to do it.