How "Moderate" Republicans Block Economic Progress

August 09, 2011 1:44 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Yesterday I noted that several congressional Republicans, led by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), have pretended that Standard & Poor's decision to downgrade the U.S. government's credit rating was not accompanied by a clear explanation that GOP refusal to consider increased revenue played a key role in the downgrade.

But it isn't exactly breaking news that people like Boehner and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) dishonestly peddle economic snake oil, or that they reflexively oppose sensible policies that enjoy wide public support. Considerably less attention is paid to the key role played by ostensibly moderate Republicans like Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA). After all, as intransigent as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) are, they can't sustain a filibuster of important legislation without the help of the least conservative members of the Republican caucus.

So how did Snowe react to the downgrade announcement? On August 6, she called the downgrade "deeply troubling" and reiterated her support for a balanced budget amendment. She didn't mention the concept of revenue increases, though S&P was clear that GOP refusal to consider such increases contributed to its decision. Then, during an August 8 meeting with the editorial staff of the Bangor Daily News, Snowe ducked a direct question about "new revenue."

Snowe's fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, has stayed silent about the downgrade. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) said the cause of the downgrade "wasn't the gridlock" — though S&P said quite clearly that gridlock was the key cause. It's little wonder that Brown, a key part of the GOP's gridlock strategy, wants to pretend gridlock didn't lead to the downgrade, but it isn't honest.

The ever-increasing influence of the know-nothing, burn-it-all-down wing of the GOP is, of course, an important story, and Tea Party Republicans are a destructive blend of ignorance and malice. But there aren't enough Tea Party Republicans to sustain a filibuster in the Senate. Therefore, it isn't the DeMints and Jon Kyls of the Senate who block necessary legislation, it's the Olympia Snowes and Scott Browns. The so-called "moderate" Republicans deserve far more blame than they receive, particularly given that they represent states like Maine and Massachusetts rather than, say, South Carolina. 

The same is true in the House: Yes, Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Allen West (R-FL) deserve the criticism they receive for their reckless, cold-hearted and counter-productive policy preferences. But Allen West's vote isn't necessary to pass legislation: The two dozen least conservative House Republicans could join with Democrats to pass, for example, a jobs bill. They aren't household names, but they should be: They're preventing action to improve the economy and create jobs.