Yesterday, the House voted by 224-199 to move the "stimulus" bill to the floor, where it will be debated along with almost a dozen possible amendments. The margin of victory was short by 24 economic know-nothings, mostly "Blue-Dog" Democrats, who extracted a promise that Congress will return soon to "pay-as-you-go" budgeting.
That was predictable. It’s often helpful to assume that support for doing something really good, or stopping something really bad, is usually between 30%-40%, so the rest of the votes needed have to be bought for a high price.
The WaPo has a helpful article today, Democarts Among Stimulus Skeptics, describing the different expectations different groups have for this bill.
– Is this bill the "big one," so we need to cram everything we always wanted to do in it, because this may be our best/only chance? Or is it just a down payment on more to come?
– Is it relief for those most hurt by the worst recession since WWII? Or is it meant to get us out of the recession?
– Is it just making up for the last eight years of underfunding of worthwhile programs, a collection of pet projects? Or is it supporting new initiatives that will be transformative?
The answer seems to be "yes, all of the above," and that’s why it seems such a hodge podge of stuff. If we look at this only from one lens — e.g., are the pieces all good at providing economic stimulus — we’ll find some good things, but not enough, along with lots of stuff that doesn’t measure up because it doesn’t work fast enough, that seems a lost opportunity.
But if we ask, is it transformative with respect to health care, energy, education, the answer is there are some good things here. [Udptate: Today's NYT has good articles on the transformative elements regarding education and health care, along with the predictable howls from conservatives for whom Obama's "I won" is just sinking in. There is more for energy efficiency and renewables and some but not nearly enough for what the American Society of Engineers calls infrastructure's "dire straits."] These are at least a down payment, though not always well directed.
Does it provide sufficient relief? Well, there’s a lot of money for helping the states continue projects (and jobs) that might be cancelled and funding Medicaid that might be dropped, and helping those who’ve lost their jobs get health care. But it probably won’t be enough as the economy worsens, because to do that, you’d have to ignore everything else.
The result is a bill trying to do several things at once, and thus easy to criticize as not doing enough on any one thing, neglecting things that should be done or compromised for the wrong reasons. It comes off as a reflection on Obama’s team and the Congress, an inability to focus. But I disagree. Virtually everything on the spending side of the bill, plus some of the tax credits/incentives for energy, need to be done, and more, and the sooner the better.
And we need to remember how we got here. This bill reflects the Reagan/Bush legacy. These clowns did so much damage, left us such a monumental mess, and were so criminally negligent in the fundamentals of governance, that it’s impossible to fix the catastrophic mess they left us any time soon, even with a trillion dollar bill, or several trillion dollar bills. And the nation is left floundering about where/how to start climbing out of the massive hole we’re in.