The Republican-engineered controversy around the stimulus is a phony.

The stimulus package that President Obama signed into law Tuesday is a modest effort, actually too modest, at arresting the free fall of the American economy. It’s just not that expensive in light of the dimensions of the economic crisis, most of it is quite conservatively aimed at tax cuts for a suffering public and bailouts for beleaguered state programs, and it pales in comparison with the trillions wasted on the bloated military budget during the Bush years.

Furthermore, it is obscene that the Republicans who created this mess dare question the cost of a stimulus package directed at meeting a crisis that their radical deregulation of the financial markets created. While it is true that too many Democrats went along with the Republican deregulatory zealots, it is the prime legacy of the GOP going back to the Reagan Revolution that has been called into question.

The decisive deregulation that opened the door for the Wall Street swindlers was pushed through Congress by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican. He was rabidly backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose support of deregulation dates back to his interventions on behalf of the savings and loan hustlers whose shenanigans foreshadowed the current Wall Street scandals. Yet McCain now faults Obama for acting boldly to deal with a similar but far larger mess. It is a tribute to Obama’s leadership that he was able to get a much-needed bill passed in record time, thereby giving the millions of Americans now hurting a shot at recovery.

Key Republican governors, from Florida to California, know this, which is why they and many other governors who actually must address the needs of constituents have rallied to the president’s side. “It really is a matter of perspective,” Florida’s Republican Gov. Charlie Crist noted recently after appearing with Obama in support of the stimulus plan, because it “helps us meet the needs of the people in a very difficult economic time.”

Congressional Republicans, with the exception of that embarrassingly shrunken contingent of three moderates, will rue their legacy of deep indifference at a time of true national emergency, one that makes George W. Bush’s far more costly war on terror now seem an absurdly irrelevant exercise. The financial impact on Wall Street from al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks is small compared with the damage done by the bankers whom the Bush administration coddled and who laid waste to the entire financial system.

The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy combined with the trillions wasted on unnecessary military spending dwarf the costs of the Obama stimulus package. The money wasted in Iraq, a misguided nation-building effort that had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was supported uncritically by the same Republicans who now heap such scorn on efforts to rebuild our own nation.

They draw the line at a stimulus bill that funnels $135 billion directly to the bankrupted state governments to help pay for Medicaid, education and infrastructure. Yet they cannot account for the far larger sums wasted in their support of the terminally corrupt governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was just peachy to run up immense deficits pursuing irrational foreign adventures, but efforts to create jobs at home are viewed through a lens of criticism.

Bill Clinton said in a CNN interview: “I find it amazing that the Republicans, who doubled the debt of the country in eight years and produced no new jobs doing it, [and] gave us an economic record that was totally bereft of any productive result, are now criticizing him [Obama] for spending money.”

The irony is that the congressional Republicans, who at the end of the Bush presidency authored the much more expensive banking bailout that eventually will throw trillions at Wall Street, oppose a much smaller stimulus package that comes to the assistance of ordinary Americans. While approving of $125 billion in payouts to AIG and tens of billions more to each of the top banks, they question spending far smaller amounts to aid the victims of bankers’ greed; $2 billion to redevelop abandoned and foreclosed homes, $2.1 billion for Head Start programs for poor kids, $1.2 billion to construct and repair veterans hospitals and cemeteries and a miserly $555 million to help defense employees sell their homes.

The only valid criticism to be made of the stimulus bill that Obama signed Tuesday with deserved pride of authorship is that it is too small for the enormous problem at hand. But if it had been up to the Republicans, we wouldn’t be doing anything at all.

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