Will the GOP cooperate or obstruct?

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By Rick Howell

    The refusal of the Republican Party in the House to support President Obama’s economic stimulus bill raised a basic question about the GOP as the new president attempts to carry out the mandate he was given.

    Will Republicans work with the president or will they continue to rely upon the failed policies - and the wrong-headed notions behind those policies - that got them beaten so badly in November?

    Not a single Republican member of the House voted for the bill, which is currently the only reasonable piece of legislation on the table that would invest in millions of new jobs for Americans and provide middle class workers with a tax cut that would show up directly in their paychecks.

    Unfortunately, these House members stuck to the “government is bad” mantra that is so discredited. One Republican member said he didn’t want to “borrow and spend” to pass that bill. But I bet he didn’t mind borrowing and spending to fund the trillions of dollars we wasted in Iraq.

    Surely the Republicans won’t deny how serious the economic crisis is in this country. If you only read or hear a little bit of the news, you can’t miss the fact that almost every day there’s a new company that’s closing or laying off large numbers of workers.

    These things ripple into vast social disruptions, more food stamp applications, more mortgage foreclosures, auto repossessions, and on and on. Barack Obama was elected to do something about it, something more than just rely on the alleged “magic of the marketplace” to remedy the situation.

    In this case, the marketplace obviously isn’t enough. No entity in our society can spend money and generate economic activity like the federal government. The corporations certainly can’t do it when they’re already bleeding from the crisis. You can’t make more of a product when you’re laying off the workers that make it.

    Yes, $819 billion is a steep price for this stimulus, but we’ve spent more than that in Iraq. Is there too much “pork” in the bill, as many House Republicans and even a few Democrats said? There usually is in any spending bill, but hopefully the Senate will remove the worst of that.

    For those who insist on voting against this measure, it is incumbent upon them to say what they would do instead. Some modern version of Herbert Hoover’s “prosperity is just around the corner” won’t cut it. Action has to be taken, and this bill represents the only game in town.

    For Republicans, though, it could be a defining moment. In 2006 and 2008 their policies were thoroughly rejected and their candidates defeated. Now, in the House at least, they have resisted the call of a new, popular president (a 68 percent approval rating) to work with them to rebuild the country.

    What do they tell voters in the next election cycle if all they have done is obstruct and oppose what most Americans clearly want? Obama can succeed without them, but they’ll be labeled as a collective “Dr. No” party. “No” to the new president, “no” to the legislative action that can help us, and “yes” to the shrill and extreme cries of a Rush Limbaugh, who has already said that he hopes Obama fails.

    Republicans can be a part of the solution and try to rebuild their party in the process. Or they can obstruct and oppose and secure more rounds of electoral defeats for about a generation to come. The ball is in their court.

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    Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com