In a blistering Thursday morning speech at the Economic Policy Institute -- a progressive think tank -- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked a question that's been on the minds of many Democrats and progressives: Are Republicans sabotaging the economic recovery as part of their quest to defeat President Obama next year?
"[W]e need to start asking ourselves an uncomfortable questions -- are Republicans slowing down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012?" Schumer said. "Senator McConnell made it clear last October that his number one priority, above everything else, is to defeat President Obama. And now it is becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan -- it has a double-benefit for Republicans: it is ideologically tidy and it undermines the economic recovery, which they think only helps them in 2012."
Schumer -- the third ranking Democrat in the Senate and the party's top political strategist -- has been inching
in this direction
ever since Republicans trotted out new-found opposition to a payroll tax cut for business owners. But the Thursday speech constituted an escalation of his strategy. And, in a new twist, he pre-emptively saddled Republicans with blame for economic fallout of a debt default if Congress fails to raise the debt limit in a timely fashion.
"If the public comes to believe that Republicans are deliberately sabotaging the economy, it will backfire politically," Schumer said. "If there are any negative repercussions on the economy resulting from the delay in raising the debt ceiling, Republicans rightly fear that Americans will hold them responsible."
The speech wasn't just a political haymaker. Schumer also enumerated a familiar menu of growth policies Democrats would like to see included in any long-term debt reduction plan: a deeper payroll tax cut for employers and employees, an infrastructure bank, and a highway bill, among others. And he reiterated his insistence that new tax revenues have to be part of any deal -- that Republicans need Democratic votes to avoid default, and thus have to include new revenue.
"Speaker Boehner is not going to be able to cobble together 218 votes from his own party on a final deal," Schumer said. "In the end he is going to need Democrats. That means we have leverage to insist on our top three priorities."
Those priorities? No cuts to Medicare benefits, new tax revenues, and near-term job creation measures.