Saturday, February 07, 2009


Trying to close out debate on the economic stimulus package before the United States Senate has been a trying exercise, I am sure, for the Democratic leadership. The Republicans, who have no respect for anyone, are demanding far more power and input than their numbers deserve. Members of their caucus keep trying to introduce alternative "stimulus plans"; others, who claim a lack of ideological fervor, attempt to peel off less liberal Democrats by insisting on "centrist" alternatives to certain provisions of the bill.

And then, there's last year's big loser, Sen. John McCain.
“The whole point, Mr. President, is to enact tax cuts and spending measures that truly stimulate the economy,” McCain said. “There are billions and tens of billions of dollars in this bill which will have no effect within three, four, five or more years, or ever. Or ever.”

The back and forth is more reminiscent of the sharp attacks the two men exchanged on the campaign trail rather than Obama’s hope of moving past partisanship in Washington. And it comes as McCain has positioned himself to becoming a leading opponent of the Senate Democratic plan, which may cost more than $920 billion if major cuts are not made.

McCain’s criticism comes after a significant period of d├ętente between the two campaign rivals and a direct effort by Obama to woo McCain and get him involved in policy negotiations. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), still a strong surrogate for McCain, told Politico that he believed Obama was "AWOL" on bipartisan negotiations on the stimulus, further showing the discontent on the GOP side of the aisle.

In the first place, no one can really be sure, definitively, about the effect this bill would have. It is far too large, far too wide ranging to make any kind of statement one way or another. Anyone who says otherwise can apparently wrap their mind around not the just the concept but the reality of $1,000,000,000,000. Good for them.

Second, as to the timing of the spending, McCain is quite clearly either lying or just taking words he found somewhere and sticking them in the speech; most of the spending covers a two-year period of initial outlays, with other, more long-term spending involved in longer-term contracts (nothing odd about that; since McCain certainly loves his military contracts, what about the on-going boondoggle of the F-22 fighter, still in the development stage after first funded back in the late-1980's?).

Third, so what if the spending is longer-term than this year or the next? For the most part, such is the case with any government appropriation. Also, and this needs to be kept in mind, the current economic forecast calls for several years of economic contraction; what is needed is a sustained effort to counter the weight of a falling economic house. We should neither flag nor fail, thinking that one good shot in the arm can do the trick.

Finally, I would have loved for McCain to point out "tens of billions of dollars" worth of items in the bill that absolutely would have no stimulative effect. Not just his opinion; not just something ripped out of any context, without any explanation. Like Sen. McConnell's example of spending to remove barriers to catfish migration, after a quick thought or two, one realizes there are multiple reasons why this might just be a good idea, and have a stimulative effect on the economy, to boot (this is a good example of Pres. Obama's notion that one can actually do a few things at once, by doing some simple things directly, like replacing the government's fleet of automobiles with hybrids). The reason he can't is simple - there aren't. At most, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, the list Republicans usually hold up and shout about account for a few billion or so dollars. In a nearly trillion dollar spending proposal, this is quite literally meaningless stuff overall. Even if a few proposals could be definitively shown to be nonsensical - cut 'em out, and we are left with a pretty hefty bill nonetheless.

The reality that the economy is poised on the edge of catastrophe has been pointed out recently by Pres. Obama (as I noted yesterday) and, once again, Paul Krugman points out the danger we face, and the irresponsibility of the Republican attempts to derail the stimulus package:
So what should Mr. Obama do? Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. What matters now, however, is what he does next.

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

As I pointed out here, I agree that Mr. Obama's attempt at magnanimity at this point, and his continuing belief - absent any evidence - that he can deal in good faith with those for whom the concept is foreign, has pushed us to the point where the entire debate is more than little surreal. While Mr. Obama's speech before the House Democratic caucus was a nice shot across the Republican bow - and, along with his op-ed in the Washington Post certainly the beginning of a counter-offensive, changing the entire nature of the debate - more needs to be done. There is too much at risk - too many people hurting for real - to sit around and treat nonsensical arguments and talking points as worthy of notice.

Virtual Tin Cup

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