11:35 am Dec. 6, 2010
The way Jerrold Nadler sees it, the newly elected congressional class of 2010 is going to make Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolutionaries of the mid-‘90s look downright reasonable about the role of government.
“They're a more radical party than they were last time,” he said. “I mean, it used to be that when you had recession, you extended unemployment insurance beyond the normal 26 weeks because everybody understood people couldn't get jobs in the recession, through no fault of their own. And people understand that, in order to get out of the recession, you didn't want people to stop buying things. So that other people would be hired to make them, sell them, market them, etc. And it was also understood, generally unanimously, that when you extended unemployment insurance, even though this cost money, you didn't reduce spending to make up for it. This was emergency spending in a recession.
“Well, this current Republican Party, since last year, seems to be completely against that. They're apparently opposed to extending unemployment insurance—some of them—at all, because unemployment insurance is terrible. Because people who are uninsured are lazy bums, some of them have said in so many words.”
Nadler, who was elected in 1992—two years before the last time the Democrats were routed n the House—returns to Congress next year as a member of a minority party, and as part of a New York delegation that is down six Democratic members and an immeasurable amount of national political influence from last term.
In an interview, Nadler said he fears that between now and the next election in 2012, the Democrats will be unable to defend their legislative gains, and, more critically, to keep the Republican-led House—unchecked an insufficiently combative White House—from choking off stimulative spending just when the economy needs it most.
“I deeply believe that we are not out of the woods on the economy,” he said. “The president has liked to say, using the analogy—or the metaphor I should say—that the Republicans drove the economy into a ditch, we got it out of the ditch, and now they want the car keys back. That's what he said before the election.
“I think a more accurate metaphor is that the Republicans drove the economy into a ditch. They were driving it pell-mell off the cliff. We stopped it from going off the cliff and we started climbing out of the ditch but we're still in the ditch. We desperately need more government—federal government—activism to get out of the ditch to get the economy recovering. Otherwise you're going to have [this level of] unemployment for a long time. That entails more government spending to stimulate the economy.”
Nadler, an outspoken liberal from a district running through liberal-voting Manhattan and Brooklyn, thinks that the Democrats—and the president in particular—are losing the political battle in support of further stimulus from the federal government.
“The stimulus got a bad name because Obama didn't properly defend it, and because at one point [said] that it would keep unemployment down to 8 percent,” he said. “The fact that every major economist said that the stimulus, as inadequate and small as it was—and it was too small, and too inadequate—as small and inadequate as it was, reduced unemployment from what it otherwise would have been by 2 to 2.5 percent, and created or saved 3 to 3.5 million jobs.
“It wasn't big enough. That's why ... there's no aggregate demand, there's no ability to buy products. The only way, normally get out of the situation like that is lowering interest rate. Interest rates are at zero, there's very little ability to do anything on that line, and we are not going to get out of this for a long time to come—we're not going to lower the unemployment rate substantially for a long time to come—if government doesn't stimulate the economy by putting more money into it.
“The Republicans have said they will make sure this doesn't happen. I will fight to see that it does, but the Republicans will probably get their way. The result is that I think we're going to be in a very bad recession for quite a while.”
Nadler, an enthusiastic proponent of mass transit whose longtime dream has been the construction of a rail tunnel to carry freight from Brooklyn to New Jersey, believes the recent decision by New Jersey Chris Christie to discontinue his state’s funding for the ARC rail-tunnel project to be emblematic of a pound-foolish Republican approach to government spending.
“The ARC project is an extremely short-sighted move on the part of Governor Christie, in my opinion, because the ARC tunnel is necessary,” he said. “I mean, killing is worse for New Jersey than for New York. It's necessary if you're going to increase the number of commuters who can commute daily into the central business district in New York—in Manhattan—from New Jersey. To the extent you cannot do that, it's going to somewhat diminish economic activity—economic growth and employment in New York—but it's going to, to some extent, simply result in more people working in New York, living in New York, as opposed to New Jersey. So to some extent it's going to decrease economic activity in both states but more seriously in New Jersey. It's a short-sighted thing to do because it puts an upward lid on economic development.”
He feels the same about the Republican approach to infrastructure spending in general, which, he says, ignores history.
“If we want to make our economy to remain competitive, and get more jobs, we have to keep it competitive in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the efficiency of the economy, in terms of more high-speed rail, in terms of being able to move freight efficiently, in terms of broad-band penetration in the economy,” he said. “The Republicans seem to want to spend less money on all this, and that's just going to move a lot of jobs off shore, as more economies are more efficient and we're less efficient.
“The Republicans seem to think or to say that the private sector generates all jobs and that government spending is wasteful—inherently wasteful. There's certainly some government spending that's wasteful, and some private sector spending that's wasteful. But throughout the history of this country, the economy has been built on the foundation of government infrastructure—starting with the Eerie Canal that made New York what it is and the Eastern Seaboard, going through Henry Craig's American system of building roads and canals, and Abraham Lincoln promoting canals and railroads and the trans-contential railroad, Dwight Eisenhower and the interstate highway system: the American economy would not have developed without government paying for and promoting the development of basic infrastructure.
“Pre-Reagan, we used to spend about three percent of GDP on infrastructure. Since then we've been spending about one-and-a-half percent—or less than one-and-a-half percent—which is why our roads, our bridges, are deteriorating; which is why the Europeans, and the Japanese, and the Chinese have high-speed rail and we don't. And if we continue on that course, we're going to become less and less competitive, and more of an economic backwater.”
Of heading back to Washington next year as part of a House minority, Nadler said, “It's very upsetting. My basic thoughts are that this Republican congress or Republican House is not going to be doing things to be helping the economy, not doing things to be helping us generally. It's going to be doing everything—and [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell has said it in so many words—the chief goal is going to be to make Obama a one-termer.”
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