Republicans Caught in Austerity Trap

“The European community is now concerned with their amount of austerity.”

-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talking to reporters, warning of the effect of spending cuts proposed by Republicans.

Democrats are cheered today because the unemployment rate fell again to 7.7 percent, reinforcing their argument that government spending will eventually lead America out of its economic wilderness.

While the Obama administration promised that the 2009 stimulus package would have long ago banished such high unemployment numbers, the gradual ebbing of the unemployment rate still serves to bolster the Blue Team’s argument that now is the time to juice the economy with additional spending,


Republicans, meanwhile, are calling for cuts, cuts, cuts. The party, forced into an ongoing fiscal fight by the defeat of their presidential nominee, is becoming the American version of the British Tories: The austerity party.

While Democrats are cheering the unemployment-rate drop, the truth is revealed in the underlying numbers. While the economy added 146,00 jobs, 542,000 Americans fell out of the labor market. If another 542,000 people had given up looking for work we might have gotten the top-line rate down to a flat 7 percent.

And whatever Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Jay Carney say today about the jobs numbers, Americans still understand that the economy is, at best, weak. The new normal still seems abnormal.

But in this environment, Republicans feel duty bound to hold the line on spending. They are making a generational argument, explaining that the deficit spending of today is not only immoral but is dooming our grandchildren to poverty.

But for those who gave up looking for work in November, the desperate and the hopeless, a generational argument is, as they would say in Triadelphia, not going to feed the bulldog.

As a desperate nation grows more desperate still, Republicans must find a new argument to be relevant. It is comforting and self-satisfying perhaps to lament a nation of takers and to despair over a country that has lost the gumption to do hard but necessary things, but it won’t win the argument and won’t resuscitate the party.

The party that argues for a less generous welfare state may feel morally justified, but as the Tories have learned in the past 30 years, they are seldom elected. And when they are, it is as a dose of bad medicine.

In their current moment, Republicans have little choice but to try to hold the line against the onslaught of spending and taxes proposed by Democrats. While the Blue Team warns that European-style recession looms if Republicans get their way on cuts, everybody in Washington ought to know that it’s really the toxic cocktail of higher taxes and cuts that has produced the current European torpor.

Trapped in a demographic tailspin and saddled with an unworkable federation-style government, the Euros are stumbling through and endless economic wilderness. Their debt is unsustainable in the long term but the austerity program currently on offer is dispiriting in the short term. Tax more, spend less is way less fun than the previous setting in Europe and America for the past generation: tax less, spend more.

But Americans, thanks to lots of immigrants and a lingering enthusiasm for procreation, are not in the same tailspin yet. We are experiencing a moment of the European dead zone, but economists agree that it still the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

While Republicans are fairly well consigned to a terrible six months as they battle Obama on taxes and spending, the party has to figure out a way to stop being the Grinch party and start being the growth party.

Those Americans concerned about debt, deficits and spending are not particularly likely Obama voters. A president who in the midst of a debate over deficits and toting trillion-dollar deficits proposes another $50 billion in stimulus spending is unlikely to attract much support from the fiscal-hawk set.

Liberals may console themselves with the thought that they will eventually get to the subject of government finances after the unemployment problem is dealt with, but that’s what Republicans used to say.

“We’ll get to it later,” isn’t the strongest argument.

After they emerge from the current firefight, the Republicans, and whomever they choose to be their beau for 2016, will have to stop talking about cuts and start talking about growth.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at