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Stimulus Brings on a Family Feud

Posted on Jan 29, 2009

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

    President Obama’s visit with House and Senate Republicans this week was useful for setting a new tone and a refreshing break from the Bush administration’s habit of consulting almost no one. But it was a sideshow to the main battle over how to improve the economy, which is among Democrats.

    Lost in the stories about whether the stimulus bill should include small sums for family planning or new grass on the National Mall is a more important argument within the president’s own party over how to spur long-term growth and how the stimulus should be used to promote social and economic reform.

    In truth, the stimulus proposal has united Democrats to a degree not seen in decades because most of the programs on which they want to spend money are those deemed by economists to be most likely to jump-start the economy. But if the party’s progressives find themselves in agreement on the fundamentals, they have differences over priorities.

    One camp favors using the stimulus to focus on the needs of Americans with modest incomes. The bills being developed in the House and the Senate include substantial new spending for the unemployed, for food stamps and for significant advances in health care coverage. The tax cuts in both versions tilt toward Americans with lower incomes. Education programs also fare well.

    But another group of progressives sees the bills as shorting investments for infrastructure: roads, bridges and particularly mass transit. This camp was buoyed by a report released Wednesday by the American Society of Civil Engineers concluding that it would take $2.2 trillion to bring the nation’s infrastructure into good repair.


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    In the meantime, environmentalists have pushed for large investments in clean energy and conservation. The stimulus plans are generous to these programs, but their advocates are seeking more. 

    And many different kinds of progressives support substantial fiscal relief for the states—even though Washington politicians rarely get much credit for such help—simply to avoid draconian and economically counterproductive cuts in state budgets.

    Underlying the debate is another progressive worry: that as large as the stimulus proposal is, it may not be big enough to pull the economy out of a steep decline.

    Between now and late February, when the Senate and House are expected to resolve the differences between their proposals, pressure could build for a larger stimulus, or for a second package later this year. Either step could allow progressives to allocate more money to their competing priorities, particularly infrastructure.

    With a few exceptions, Republicans and conservatives have largely stayed out of these arguments. They prefer to insist on more tax cuts for the well-off and for business, ignoring the reality that all but the most ideological economists dismiss such measures as having limited value in boosting the economy. 

    Obama graciously brushed off the GOP’s advocates of big tax cuts by acknowledging “legitimate philosophical differences” over the makeup of the plan. A less polite way to put it: Because of their philosophical leanings, most Republicans have chosen to make themselves irrelevant to the debate. Their disengagement was underscored by Rep. John Boehner, the House minority leader, when he urged his members to oppose the plan even before Obama met with them on Tuesday.

    The president has been willing to give House and Senate Democrats substantial leeway in crafting their proposals because both will be broadly to his liking. He can influence the final outcome when the two houses work out their differences next month.

    The administration did intervene, however, to chip away at a few small but politically troublesome expenditures that won wide and negative media attention.

    For example, one congressional staff member said that the administration’s pressure on the House to drop a provision providing modest sums for state family planning programs reflected the view of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other Obama lieutenants that injecting a cultural issue into an economic debate would be politically counterproductive.

    Yet if Obama looks serene, he has reason to be. He has already changed the tenor of the debate, and economic events have shifted the philosophical ground on which it’s occurring. The most important arguments are among progressives over how much government should do, how it should do it, and where it can spend money most effectively. That’s very different from the debate Washington is accustomed to, but it’s a debate worth watching.

    E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is postchat(at)

    © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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By cyrena, January 31, 2009 at 7:21 pm Link to this comment

I couldn’t resist cross-posting this.

This is too good! (some of you won’t get it) For the rest, enjoy. (there are several Greg Palast fans among us)

Obama Is a Two-Faced Liar. Aw-RIGHT!
Friday 30 January 2009

by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

  “ Republicans are right. President Barack Obama treated them like dirt, didn’t give a damn what they thought about his stimulus package, loaded it with a bunch of programs that will last for years and will never leave the budget, is giving away money disguised as “tax refunds,” and is sneaking in huge changes in policy, from schools to health care, using the pretext of an economic emergency.

  Way to go, Mr. O!  Mr. Down-and-Dirty Chicago pol. Street-fightin’ man. Covering over his break-your-face power play with a “we’re all post-partisan friends” BS.

  And it’s about time.

  Frankly, I was worried about this guy. Obama’s appointing Clinton-droids to the Cabinet, bloated incompetents like Larry Summers as “Economics Czar,” made me fear for my country, that we’d gotten another Democrat who wished he were a Republican.

  Then came Obama’s money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.

  It’s as if Obama dug up Ronald Reagan’s carcass and put a stake through The Gipper’s anti-government heart. Aw-RIGHT!

  About the only concession Obama threw to the right-wing trogs was to remove the subsidy for condoms, leaving hooker-happy GOP Senators, like David Vitter, to pay for their own protection. S’OK with me”

Read the rest at the link:

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By KDelphi, January 31, 2009 at 5:59 pm Link to this comment

...I wish Dems would assert the power while they have it.

Spiritgirl—Unfortunately Boner is from Troy—a “rough” little city which threw people out when they brought the boots of the dead for a memorial, so—dont count on it. I hate him.

The Dems have launched people against Turner, too, to no avail. They dont put much into it. Jane Mitakides just doesnt campaign hard enough to make it plausible.Voinovich is retiring—-but he will probably be replaced by a more conservative GOP.

It is hard to understand—even with a Dem governor—-Ohio is broke! Strickland keps cutting and cutting. Taft spent $3.5 million of Workman’s Comp $$ on “rare coins”(remember Bob Noe??), and, paid $3000 restitution and is now teaching at a local Catholic University…oh, he also “apologized”.
I agree with dihey. Tax cuts—-already did that.

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By P. T., January 29, 2009 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment

The point of spending on infrastructure is you get two things for your money:  You get paying jobs for workers and also get valuable infrastructure.

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By dihey, January 29, 2009 at 3:10 pm Link to this comment

If Karl Marx were still alive today he would lecture us that much of the so-called “infrastructure” is really public capital because it is a “means of production”. He would point out that a private company which does not take good care of its “means of production” will fail. Likewise, governments must take good care of our public capital to prevent that the country will fail. This has nothing to do with Socialism because the repair of public capital in our country is in the interest of private enterprise.
I firmly believe that the repair of our public capital/infrastructure is infinitely more important than handing the Republican politicians a lollipop of tax reductions. In fact, I hold that the inclusion of tax breaks in the so-called “stimulus” is economically insane. The Democrats in Congress who want to strike the tax breaks from the pending legislation are doing a service to our country. The others are merely frightened pols following the piping Pied Piper of Washington into the economic Potomac. The tax break should be redirected to pay for the repair of our public means of production.

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By cyrena, January 29, 2009 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

I ditto SpiritGirl, and I also appreciate the professionalism of EJ Dionne in his reporting of this.

I’m curious about the ‘main’ argument or objection though…

“Underlying the debate is another progressive worry: that as large as the stimulus proposal is, it may not be big enough to pull the economy out of a steep decline…”

This may be a legitimate concern, and it’s been voiced by the progressives for sure. Thing is, if it’s NOT BIG ENOUGH, what do we do? Print more money? I mean, I really don’t get how we can otherwise make it ‘bigger’.

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By Spiritgirl, January 29, 2009 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment

I would suggest that Repugnikans continue to follow the advise of John Boehner, what they show is a stubborn, arrogant,slavishness to their corporate handlers!  Hopefully, the voters of the states they represent will finally see them for the shills that they are, and boot the rascals out on their bums come the next election cycle!!!!

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