Putting on the old speaking-on-behalf-of-my-generation hat, as a "millennial" I have to take issue with Senator John McCain's depiction of the economic stimulus package that will finally pass at the end of this week, leaving all of Washington totally exhausted.

McCain says the plan is "generational theft. ... We are robbing future generations of Americans of their hard-earned dollars because we are laying on them a debt of incredible proportions." This from a man who ran a campaign that promised to double down on the deficit-producing Bush tax cuts and whose response to the economic crisis is ... $450 billion in tax cuts for corporations and the weathy. He's remarkably consistent, but consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

It's awful nice of McCain to think of young people now -- as Sarah Burris notes, McCain and other Republican leaders turning to the youth now have never prioritized their concerns much before -- but in this case young folks are more concerned about the present than the future. It's not actually young people who are complaining about "generational theft," it's actually men of a certain age; in McCain's case, 72.

Understanding that a commitment to reducing the the national debt and balancing the budget is important under normal conditions, young people would still prefer to have jobs when they graduate from college or high school during a recession crafted in large part by the economic policies McCain has supported throughout his career. (On a related note, I wonder if McCain, who has worked for the government in one way or another throughout almost his entire life, disputes Michael Steele's observation that government doesn't create jobs). Is McCain aware that 20.8 percent of teenagers are unemployed and looking for work? Or that the cost of higher education has been ballooning for years and the current economic situation is only making it more difficult for many young people to secure a post-secondary degree?

With recently-graduated friends being laid off and others still in college fretting about securing their first real job, I can testify that a key priority for young people will be expanding the job market. That's what the economic stimulus legislation is designed to do -- protect existing jobs and create new ones. (It also increase the maximum Pell grant by $500, letting more young people access higher education). The current administration has plans to follow up the stimulus package with legislation, like health care reform, that will have significant benefits on our long term fiscal situation. Obama has also indicated his support for Pay Go rules (like 'em or not), some kind of entitlement reform, and hard looks at cutting the budget. It's too early to say for sure whether he'll really be able to get the deficit under control (it took a Democrat to do that before) but at least economists say that the debt resulting from the stimulus package is manageable and won't affect interest rates in a substantial way.

You won't hear concerns about the next generation from Republicans when they oppose climate change legislation, which actually will protect future generations, or support irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy that bankrupt government with little benefit to the common good. No, this formula is only deployed when government action will actually help young people. Please, Senator McCain, keep protecting us from the jobs and education we need.

-- Tim Fernholz

[Note: How ironic is it that the headline for this post references a Baby Boomer-era song? Discuss amongst yourselves.]

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