Oh, joy — ‘moderation’ once again rules the day in Washington:
U.S. senators began debate on a massive economic-recovery package Friday evening, after a working coalition of Democrats and some Republicans reached a compromise that trimmed billions in spending from an earlier version.
The movement came after days of private meetings between centrist Democrats and Republicans who felt the price tag on the Senate’s nearly $900 billion version of the package was too much.
“There is a winner tonight,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and one of the moderates whose support was crucial in building support for the plan. “It’s the American people and they deserve it.”
Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska and one of the chief negotiators of the plan, said senators had trimmed the plan to $827 billion in tax cuts and spending on infrastructure, housing and other programs that would create or save jobs.
“We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows,” Nelson said as debate began.
But, as John Nichols points out:
[I]n order to get two Republican votes (those of Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania) that were needed to break a threatened GOP filibuster, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid surrendered an estimated $110 billion is proposed stimulus spending. In doing so, they cut not just fat but bone.
Fat, bone and taxes–Nichols reports that tax cuts now account for “40 percent of the overall cost of the package,” a counterproductive conciliatory gesture that Nichols warns “will do little or nothing to stimulate job creation for a country than lost almost 600,000 positions in January alone.”
Just how much bone was shaved off to prevent a (potential!) GOP filibuster?
The bottom line is that, under the Senate plan:
* States will get less aid.
* Schools will get less help.
* Job creation programs will be less well funded.
* Preparations to combat potential public health disasters — which could put the final nail in the economy’s coffin — will not be made.
In every sense, the Senate plan moves in the wrong direction.
At a time when smart economists are saying that a bigger, bolder stimulus plan is needed, Senate Democrats and a few moderate Republicans have agreed to a smaller, weaker initiative.
Something may indeed be better than nothing, and politics is nothing if not the art of the compromise, but, like Nichols, I’m finding it difficult to join in on the bipartisan fetish party. As President Obama aptly put it this past Thursday while rhetorically addressing “critics who complain ” “this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill,’ What do you think a stimulus is [emph. mine]? That’s the whole point. No, seriously, that’s the point.””
Well, apparently the President’s point was a bit too fine for the “moderates” in the Senate to fully appreciate. Perhaps Steven Pearlstein’s modest proposal to provide lawmakers with “economic personal trainers” should be seriously considered when the freshly-‘moderated’ recovery plan finally makes it to conference committee.
Related: Congressional Quarterly runs down the various amendments that were voted on throughout Friday evening. My personal favourite: David Vitter’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to keep funds away from those evil Marxists in ACORN (SHRIEK!)