I stand by my previouslyexpressed policy objections to the compromised Senate version of the recovery plan. I also still think the ‘moderate’ Kabuki performance that apparently trumped the real-world consequences of cutting funds to the states was despicable (but, hey, as long as the ‘workhorses’ keep garnering kudos from the Village). Hopefully a lot of what was stripped from the bill is put back in when it goes to conference committee.
With that said, the following graphic illustrates why, considering how urgent it is to pass a recovery plan as soon as possible, something is better than nothing (literally):
Related: Americans United for Change launch radio ads praising Susan Collins, Arlen Specter, Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe for “providing the leadership we need to get the job done” and helping the Senate “reach agreement on a plan that has support from a broad range of groups — including the US Chamber of Commerce and organized labor.”
[T]he centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan. In particular, aid to state governments, which are in desperate straits, is both fast — because it prevents spending cuts rather than having to start up new projects — and effective, because it would in fact be spent; plus state and local governments are cutting back on essentials, so the social value of this spending would be high. But in the name of mighty centrism, $40 billion of that aid has been cut out.
My first cut says that the changes to the Senate bill will ensure that we have at least 600,000 fewer Americans employed over the next two years.
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.
[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 Quarterlyruns 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!)
Chris Isidore of CNNMoney.com puts those numbers into proper context:
As bad as the unemployment rate was, it only tells part of the story for people struggling to find jobs. Friday’s report also showed that 2.6 million people have now been out of work for more than six months, the most long-term unemployed since 1983.
And that number only counts those still looking for work. The so-called underemployment rate, which includes those who have stopped looking for work and people working only part-time that want full-time positions, climbed to 13.9% from 13.5% in December. That is the highest rate for this measure since the Labor Department first started tracking it in 1994.
Absolutely “devastating”, as President Obama just observed during a news conference introducing his new emergency economic advisory board.
Yet, as Ali Frick at Think Progress acidly points out, “Republicans are stonewalling action to help the economy recover. Even as millions of Americans are losing their jobs, conservative Senators insist that there’s no rush to help them.”
LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We do not need any more news conferences. What we need is getting more than 16 people in a room. We need to slow down, take a timeout, and get it right.
ROGER WICKER (R-MS): As Thomas Jefferson reminded Americans in his day — and I quote — “Delay is preferable to error.” Let’s not rush into doing this the wrong way.
JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV): So we need to act much more responsibly than this bill acts. It’s still time. There is no hurry.
TOM COBURN (R-OK): There’s no reason for us to hurry up, number one. There’s no reason for us not to look at every area of this bill and make sure the [American] people know about it.
Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.
It’s as if the dismal economic failure of the last eight years never happened — yet Democrats have, incredibly, been on the defensive. Even if a major stimulus bill does pass the Senate, there’s a real risk that important parts of the original plan, especially aid to state and local governments, will have been emasculated.
Somehow, Washington has lost any sense of what’s at stake — of the reality that we may well be falling into an economic abyss, and that if we do, it will be very hard to get out again.
Would the Obama economic plan, if enacted, ensure that America won’t have its own lost decade? Not necessarily: a number of economists, myself included, think the plan falls short and should be substantially bigger. But the Obama plan would certainly improve our odds. And that’s why the efforts of Republicans to make the plan smaller and less effective — to turn it into little more than another round of Bush-style tax cuts — are so destructive.
As Obama put it in a speech to Democratic lawmakers last night (h/t Steve Benen), “[Y]ou get the argument, ‘Well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill.’ What do you think a stimulus is? That’s the whole point. No, seriously. That’s the point.”
Benen further notes that “The Politico‘s Jonathan Martin said that the president’s urgent tone was “reminiscent of the final days of the campaign.” It was actually more than just reminiscent — at one point, Obama literally asked lawmakers, “Fired up?” They shouted back, “Ready to go!“”
Yes, kids, this really is what they call “balance” in corporate media newspeak. We should all be thankful that cable news programming directors are encouraging such a stimulating (snerk) debate as the president attempts to unshit the bed that (too many years) of GOP rule and freemarket orthodoxy has left soiled beyond recognition.
As Digby put it, “If I didn’t follow politics closely, I would think these people [Republicans] are the ones who won the election.”
Paul Krugman wades into the ongoing debate over whether Obama should look back or move forward with regards to extra-legal activities on the part of the outgoing administration:
Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.
First, let me make it clear that my sentiments directly and unequivocally intersect with Krugman’s, as outlined in this post. With that said, I’m all-too pessimistic about the likelihood of any serious investigations taking place. As Earl Ofari Hutchinson notes, members of the party that currently controls both branches of Congress (including and especially its leadership) also have bloodstained hands:
The Democratic-controlled Congress passed the “Protect America Act.” This put the Congressional stamp of approval on what Bush did and actually expanded his powers to snoop. The targets weren’t just foreign terror suspects and known operatives but American citizens. Democrats knew this and approved it by inserting in the law open ended wording that permitted legalized spying on anyone outside the U.S. who intelligence agencies “reasonably believed” to posses foreign intelligence information. The law deliberately made no distinction about exactly who the target could be. Then there was the infamous clause that granted immunity from lawsuits to communications service providers that made Bush snooping possible. With no fear or threat of legal action against the companies, the wraps were legally off on who could be snooped on. As an added sweetener the law also gave Bush emergency power to tap for up to a week anyone deemed a terror threat; all without a warrant.
And one can’t forget about the CIA’s torture enhanced interrogation program, of which top-level Democratic members of the House and Senate were informed early on of what was going on, yet at the time chose to do nothing. So, with all due respect to people like John Conyers Jr., any attempt to cast the spotlight on the many, many crimes committed over the past decade and hold everyone who is responsible accountable is, I fear, ultimately a futile pursuit. Forgive and (most importantly) forget will be the mantra that the Washington establishment continues to embrace, purely out of an unhealthy, cynical, yet entirely understandable bipartisan sense of self-preservation.
Making every Democrat and progressive who gives a shit about effective Congressional leadership wince, Harry Reid has informed The Politico that he isn’t going anywhere, and dares Republicans to bring it on (so to speak) in 2010. Yes, because nothing says “heckuva job” like once again guiding Congress to historically low approval ratings in 2008–shit, if Reid were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company he’d…er, well, he’d likely be handed a hefty multi-million dollar bonus and a contract extension. Anyway, despite all that pesky dissatisfaction being expressed by the ungrateful masses, Reid confidently likens his role over the past 8 years to “a point on a spear going against George Bush,” claiming “[t]hat’s what I had to do to protect the United States Senate and the country.”
Right, well, if that’s the case, the Dems better think about sharpening that mofo, because apparently it can’t pierce tissue paper, as Glenn Greenwald tartly notes:
Not even the most cynical political observer would have believed that it was the ascension of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi that would be the necessary catalyst for satisfying Bush’s most audacious demands, concerning his most brazenly illegal actions. If anything, hopes were high that Democratic control of Congress would entail a legislative halt to warrantless eavesdropping or, at the very least, some meaningful investigation and disclosure — what we once charmingly called “oversight” — regarding what Bush’s domestic spying had really entailed. After all, the NSA program was the purified embodiment of the most radical attributes of a radical regime — pure lawlessness, absolute secrecy, a Stasi-like fixation on domestic surveillance. It was widely assumed, even among embittered cynics, that the new Democratic leadership in Congress would not use their newfound control to protect and endorse these abuses.
Yet in July 2008, there stood Pelosi and Reid, leading their caucuses as they stamped their imprimatur of approval on Bush’s spying programs. The so-called FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed with virtually unanimous GOP and substantial Democratic support, including the entire top level of the House Democratic leadership. It legalized vast new categories of warrantless eavesdropping and endowed telecoms with full immunity for prior surveillance lawbreaking. Most important, it ensured a permanent and harmless end to what appeared to be the devastating scandal that exploded in 2005 when the New York Times revealed to the country that the Bush administration was spying on Americans illegally, without warrants of any kind.
With passage of the Act, Democrats delivered to the Bush administration everything it wanted — and more. GOP Sen. Kit Bond actually taunted the Democrats in the Times for giving away the store: “I think the White House got a better deal than they even had hoped to get.”
The FISA fight was the destructive template that drove virtually every other civil liberties battle of the last year. Time and again, Democrats failed to deliver on a single promise. They failed to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate to restore habeas corpus, which had been partially abolished in 2006 as a result of the Military Commissions Act that passed with substantial Democratic support and wholesale Democratic passivity. Notably, while Senate Democrats, when in the minority, never even considered a filibuster to block the Military Commissions Act, it was simply assumed that the GOP, when it was in the minority, would filibuster in order to prevent passage of the Habeas Restoration Act. And filibuster they did.
Apparently Reid and his fellow travellers in the legislative branch never paid much heed to the old adage re: bringing knives to gun fights. The principle also holds true for spears, I’m sure. Especially dull spears, with roses and sweet, sweet candy tied to the tip (sour overtures to lame ducks aside).
I know, I know–by now I shouldn’t be at all surprised at the depths the scandal-starved Beltway hack-corps will sink to. But this has to rank as one of the more ham-fisted attempts to smear the incoming President via tenuous (read: next-to-non-existent) association:
As of 7:45 EST, AP reports that Obama’s transition office had yet to respond to the…um, well, I suppose you can’t really call them allegations, since nothing–I repeat, nothing–has been, er, y’know, alleged, merely insinuated by an outrageously misleading headline and lede. I mean, is it really news that a prominent, long-time Democratic donor (who, as helpfully noted by AP, is now embroiled in a local small beer pay-for-play scandal in New Mexico) made a couple of donations to the Democratic Candidate for POTUS? Really, Ron?
One wonders if Obama’s press team is mulling whether it’s worth the time and effort to craft a statement that, no matter how it’s worded, will just end up being a lengthy variation on “Yeah, so?!”
“I don’t regret any of it,” Hildebrand told me when I asked him a few minutes ago by phone whether he regretted the tone of his piece, which many found condescending and finger-wagging.
“My intent was exactly what I wrote,” Hildebrand said, adding that the criticism had “surprised” him.
Hildebrand also confirmed that the Obama team had had no hand in writing or approving the piece. “This was not collaborated with anybody in the Obama camp,” he said, and a source close to the transition confirms this.
Perhaps Marc Ambinder and Ezra Klein are correct, and this was all just a Machiavellian attempt on the part of the Obama team (does anyone really buy Hildebrand’s hard-to-swallow contention that he called an audible with this play?) to shift the Overton Window via political theatre. Sure would be nice to finally see imperative policy endeavors like withdrawal from Iraq, health care reform, and climate change firmly established as mainstream pursuits in the US public interest, rather than planks in a narrow communistsocialistMarxistanti-American ‘liberal’ platform.
The reason the Republican Party and conservative movement were so successful [up until recently] was because they developed a symbiotic relationship. Specifically, the party apparatus knew that sustained conservative movement pressure on the party was good for the party in keeping it disciplined and on message. By contrast, the culture of the Democratic Party since the McGovern debacle in 1972 has been to bash the progressive movement – to triangulate against it as proof of “independence” and “centrism.” We saw where that got the Democratic Party for the last 30 years – but by the looks at the public post-election attacks on “the left” from Democrats, it seems like the party higher-ups still haven’t learned the simple lesson that pressure from a strong movement strengthens the party as a whole.
In other words, internal criticism from individuals and organizations who share your goals serves as a self-correcting ideological quality control mechanism. Such good-faith criticism is a benefit, not an impediment. Stifle it and you risk weakening your mandate.
Look, like Sirota, I’m not ready to give up on Obama just yet. Every new administration will stumble at times, and I’ve been vocal (if perhaps a bit too impolitic) when I believe the criticism has been impatient and unfair. But pat-patting progressive critics on teh heads with smug condescension and smarmy dismissiveness , as Hildebrand did, is just plain idiotic.
The better approach here would’ve been to underscore President-elect Obama’s progressive appointments and to remind us that even though the Republicans are on the run, we still have a lot of work to do together. “Together” is the appropriate word here. If the goal is to be all-inclusive, and then to write a piece that doesn’t reach out to the netroots, what are we supposed to take away from the message?