Monday, February 2, 2009

Stimulating Conversation

Republican leaders in the House and Senate warn that the stimulus package may not pass as written.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday the massive stimulus bill backed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats could go down to defeat if it’s not stripped of unnecessary spending and focused more on housing issues and tax cuts.

The Senate version of the bill, which topped out at nearly $900 billion, is headed to the floor for debate. The House bill totaled about $819 billion and earned no Republican votes, even though it easily passed the Democratic-controlled House. At some point lawmakers will need to compromise on the competing versions.

McConnell and other Republicans suggested that the bill needed an overhaul because it doesn’t pump enough into the private sector through tax cuts and allows Democrats to go on a spending spree unlikely to jolt the economy. The Republican leader also complained that Democrats had not been as bipartisan in writing the bill as Obama had said he wanted.

“I think it may be time … for the president to kind of get a hold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who have rather significant majorities, and shake them a little bit and say, ‘Look, let’s do this the right way,'” McConnell said. “I can’t believe that the president isn’t embarrassed about the products that have been produced so far.”

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he was seeing an erosion of support for the bill and suggested that lawmakers should consider beginning anew.

“When I say start from scratch, what I mean is that the basic approach of this bill, we believe, is wrong,” Kyl said.

A couple of points here. First, getting lectured by Republicans on deficit spending is a little bit like getting tips on dressing modestly by Britney Spears. After eight years of rubber-stamping billions of dollars for the needless war in Iraq, these folks have no right to tell anyone anything about wasteful government spending without being greeted by a chorus of cynical laughter. Fortunately, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) gets it.

The largest spending bill in history is going to turn out to be the war in Iraq. And one of the things, if we’re going to talk about spending, I don’t — I have a problem when we leave out that extraordinarily expensive, damaging war in Iraq, which has caused much more harm than good, in my judgment.


The problem is that we look at spending and say, “Oh, don’t spend on highways. Don’t spend on health care. But let’s build Cold War weapons to defeat the Soviet Union when we don’t need them. Let’s have hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars going to the military without a check.” Unless everything’s on the table, then you’re going to have a disproportionate hit in some places.

Second, the Republicans carry on about wanting to provide a stimulus package, but that’s only as long as it doesn’t involve government spending. Well, I’m not an economist, but I think even a layman can grasp the concept that a stimulus package, by definition, is government spending. The GOP therefore is saying in effect, “The patient needs a heart transplant? That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t involve surgery.”

It’s a little ironic for the Republicans to be warning about voting against the stimulus package without input from their side. This is, to quote the immortal Bard, “hot ice and wondrous strange snow.” When they were in power from 2001 to 2007, the Republicans wouldn’t even let the Democrats in the door as they whooped through all of the Bush administration’s tax cuts and corporate welfare. What’s even more ironic is that now that they’re in the minority they still expect to be treated with the deference that they never bothered to show the Democrats. The logic then was they were the “permanent majority,” so why bother? Unfortunately, they’re still working from the mentality that “bipartisanship” means that everything’s fine as long as they get exactly what they want.