On Sunday ABC's "This Week" featured what the so-called liberal media considers a balanced panel (two CEOs, a Republican Senator, and a Democratic Congressman) to discuss the stimulus. Happily the Democrat was Barney Frank, who wiped the floor with the Republican, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). This exchange is an excellent example:
DEMINT: And so it really comes down to a basic argument: Do you want a government-directed plan or do you want the free markets to work?
FRANK: Well, yes, I do want -- I want highways. I want better medical care for people laid off. This notion -- and the one thing I would most disagree with is you say we overregulated. It was the complete absence of regulation in the financial area that led to the crisis we're in today.
. . . FRANK: The policy was, yes, to put no restrictions on people outside the banking system who are extending themselves in the financial area into instruments which they couldn't back up. It was even within the banking system, letting people go with things that were off the balance sheet.
The complete absence of regulation in the financial area has, I think, been a disaster. And I think we're back to where we were when Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson stepped in or Franklin Roosevelt.
But beyond that, the notion that everything is solved by a tax cut, of course there are sensible tax policies you could have. But there are public needs we have in this society...
FRANK: ... that cannot be accomplished by a tax cut. No tax cut builds a road. No tax cut puts a cop on the street. No tax cut educates a child in -- in the way that it ought to be done.
So this -- only tax cuts, at a time when I think we have a deficiency in some areas that are important for the quality of our life is a big disagreement.
DEMINT: But, George, we -- we have programs. I mean, we're reauthorizing our highway bill this year.
FRANK: At too low a level.
DEMINT: And -- well -- well, let's talk about making it a higher level, but let's don't say it's a stimulus when it's a government spending plan. And all of these things, the needs in our society, education, these are things we debate every year.
FRANK: Spending can be stimulus. I don't understand what you think stimulus is.
DEMINT: But this is the largest spending bill in history, and we're trying to call it a stimulus when it's just doing the things that...
FRANK: Well, let me tell you what I think is the largest...
DEMINT: ... you wanted to do anyway.
FRANK: The largest spending bill in history is going to turn out to be the war in Iraq. And one of the things, if we're going to talk about spending, I don't -- I have a problem when we leave out that extraordinarily expensive, damaging war in Iraq, which has caused much more harm than good, in my judgment.
And I don't understand why, from some of my conservative friends, building a road, building a school, helping somebody get health care, that's -- that's wasteful spending, but that war in Iraq, which is going to cost us over $1 trillion before we're through -- yes, I wish we hadn't have done that. We'd have been in a lot better shape fiscally.
. . . FRANK: That's the problem. The problem is that we look at spending and say, "Oh, don't spend on highways. Don't spend on health care. But let's build Cold War weapons to defeat the Soviet Union when we don't need them. Let's have hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars going to the military without a check." Unless everything's on the table, then you're going to have a disproportionate hit in some places.
DeMint's fatuous definition of the question ("Do you want a government-directed plan or do you want the free markets to work?") captures what's wrong with the Republicans' view. According to Republicans, there's this magical "free market" that will solve all our problems if only we get out of its way. I've written previously about this inanity, and that applies here. There's no such thing as the "free market" -- at least as DeMint imagines it -- and it's appalling that someone could live to DeMint's age and still believe in the equivalent of the tooth fairy.