If my understanding of what’s happening in the Senate is correct, a bipartisan group of “centrists” is going to modify the stimulus proposal by making it somewhat less generous to poor people and somewhat more generous to prosperous homebuyers. Paris was worth a mass, and a recovery package is worth a dumb homebuyers’ tax credit. But people shouldn’t be under any delusions as to what Nelson, Collins, and co. are doing—they’re slimming the bill down by going after weak claimants, not by slicing out the weakest claims.
Hey, gang, I’m back from vacation. The past week was a lot of fun, and I owe many thanks to Kay, Brian, and Ryan for helping to make it possible. Blogging should return to its normal me-based schedule as of now.
For the moment let me just note that in Spain they have this interesting political system (“democracy”) wherein if your party loses the election, the other party gets to make policy until they lose an election.
On Fox News today, former Bush adviser Karl Rove responded to President Obama’s criticism last night of Republicans who offer “more tax cuts as the only answer to every problem we face,” by claiming, “no one that I know of is talking about tax cuts only.” Watch it:
Apparently, Rove doesn’t know any Senate Republicans. Yesterday, 36 out of 41 Senate Republicans voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that was an alternative “stimulus” plan consisting of nothing but permanent tax cuts. An analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that DeMint’s plan would “cost over $3.1 trillion over ten years — more than three times the amount of President Barack Obama’s plan — and be largely ineffective at creating jobs.”
Yesterday, ThinkProgress noted that President Obama was stalling in overturning Bush’s rule that allowed religious groups to discriminate — usually against gay people — in their hiring. Today, Obama made an important gesture in naming Fred Davie, the openly gay president of Public/Private Ventures, to serve on on the policy council of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Speaking about his hopes for the Office yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama emphasized the importance of reaching out to “foster a more productive and peaceful dialogue on faith“:
I don’t expect divisions to disappear overnight, nor do I believe that long-held views and conflicts will suddenly vanish. But I do believe that if we can talk to one another openly and honestly, then perhaps old rifts will start to mend and new partnerships will begin to emerge. In a world that grows smaller by the day, perhaps we can begin to crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry and make room for the healing power of understanding.
(HT: Huffington Post)
In recent weeks, conservatives have made housing their new battle cry, claiming that there isn’t enough addressing the housing crisis in the recovery bill. But as ThinkProgress has noted, they have been stalling housing relief for months. In an impassioned floor speech today, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) recounted how the GOP’s stubborness has “created” the current crisis:
KERRY: We put in a 15 billion provision in the Finance Committee. … It came to the floor of the Senate. And guess what? And the very people who are here on the floor now stripped it. The President and the administration opposed it. And for nine months, they sat there while 10,000 homes a day were being foreclosed, and they allowed us to slide into where we are today.
“They are about 10 months, a year, late on that effort, and they have created…a situation where it’s out of control,” he concluded. Watch it:
“We were subject to two years of inaction by the previous administration; that’s why bankruptcy is now an issue,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA).
By Brian Beutler
In about an hour, Matt will be back in Washington, and, unless he’s taken too fondly to the easy pace of Mediterranean life, he’ll be henpecking away at his keyboard almost right away, restoring this site to the high standards you all expect.
Also, it’s Friday night.
For those two reasons, this is probably my last post on this site for a long while.
I hope I and my co-bloggers kept this space lively, entertaining, and informative (if not exactly Yglesian) during this unusually busy week. If so, here’s a link to my own site and here’s a link to my RSS feed, if you want to bookmark me or add me to your daily digest or just come by and comment every once in a while. If not, then at the very least I hope I didn’t publish too many typos. Either way, it’s been a pleasure. Cheers.
By Brian Beutler
Matt Duss makes a great catch. “Revealing a rather peculiar lack of awareness, the Corner’s very next post is a link to an archive of articles about actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan:”
Although we mustn’t forget that this is also what Sonny Bono and Arnold Schwarzenegger hath wrought. Reagan’s career as an actor was possibly less distinguished than Franken’s–certainly less distinguished than Kilmer’s. Bono was a joke, and Schwarzenegger, while popular and fun, isn’t a very good actor. So in that sense, Kilmer might be a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, my understanding is that he’s also kind of a weirdo.
Yesterday, ThinkProgress noted that a list of items the so-called “centrist” Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) have proposed cutting from the economic recovery package would disproportionately affect women and children. These cuts included $150 million to the Violence Against Women Act and $1.1 billion to Head Start. Today, Greg Sargent posts an internal Senate memo detailing the newest cuts that the so-called “Gang of Moderates” — led by Collins and Nelson — is proposing. Once again, the eliminations and reductions are going toward programs that assist women and children:
Head Start, Education for the Disadvantaged, School improvement, Child Nutrition, Firefighters, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Prisons, COPS Hiring, Violence Against Women, NASA, NSF, Western Area Power Administration, CDC, Food Stamps
Public Transit $3.4 billion, School Construction $60 billion
The increases the Gang wants? Funds for Brownfields, STAG Grants, transportation, and of course, defense.
by Ryan Avent
Obviously, there’s nothing shocking about a libertarian being upset with the proposed stimulus plan, what with the not liking government and all. It would be surprising if Will Wilkinson weren’t writing things like this:
The economists can duke it out over the possibility of successful fiscal stimulus. But is there any reason based in up-to-date economic theory to believe that this trillion dollar deficit-spending bill is not, as [economist Robert] Barro says, garbage?
In fact, there is, and I’m not sure that a stimulus skeptic should feel too comfortable leaning on Barro, whose response to criticism after an initial salvo against stimulus in the Wall Street Journal was basically to call Paul Krugman an idiot and ignore the many legitimate objections raised in the economics blogosphere. But rather than debate macroeconomics with Will, I’d like to call attention to this:
Like the president, Krugman seems firmly caught in the paradox of countercyclical macroeconomic politics. The intermediate-level textbook theory says that at times like these we need a certain kind of policy to steady the economy’s nerves and lubricate consumption and investment. The economics says we need confidence. But political reality says we need panic. So we try to induce panic so that we can later induce confidence. This seems an extremely awkward and implausible approach, but that doesn’t keep anyone from trying it.
This is just too cute. The paradox of countercyclical macroeconomic politics is only a paradox if you believe that the current recession is the result of equal parts Democratic fear-mongering and facts on the ground. But can any sane person actually believe this? Does anyone really think that Barack Obama’s acknowledgement of economic reality and the op-ed warnings of lefty economists are the things producing this downturn, or perpetuating it, or deepening it? As opposed to, say, the trillions of dollars in lost housing and stock market wealth? Or the effect of a credit crisis on drastically overleveraged firms and consumers? Or, moving beyond initial triggers, the layoffs? Or procyclical budget cuts at the state and local level?
I think that Krugman is more right than Barro on the merits of the argument, and if I were on the fence, this kind of interview wouldn’t tend to push me toward Barro. But what really wouldn’t convince me of anything is the notion that what the economy really needs is for opinion columnists to quit whining about unemployment and output gaps and plunging global demand, as if a zen acceptance that government intervention is futile — whether or not that’s actually the case — would suddenly right our economic wrongs.
By Brian Beutler
A few years ago, Jon Chait made a prediction. “The next liberal administration, whenever it happens, will not be nearly so certain,” he wrote.
Aside from rolling back conservative excesses, its economic agenda will take its cue from external events, and the decisions it arrives at could, in time, be cast aside through experimentation. Ultimately, those policies, whether they move left or right, will be measured against their effect on people’s lives, not the degree to which they bring the government closer to some long-ago agreed-upon vision. In time, those policies will be altered yet again to suit a changing world. This is known as progress.
Today, Ross Douthat snarks:
We’re only two weeks into the new age of liberalism, but so far, Chait’s been utterly vindicated, don’t you think? Indeed, the above paragraph strikes me as a near-perfect distillation of the process that has produced the current stimulus package: A clear-eyed, cool-headed, non-ideological pragmatism, untouched by any pre-existing wish lists or biases.I’m being sarcastic, obviously. Yet of course there are many, many smart liberals – from Paul Krugman to, well, Barack Obama – who would say that Chait has been vindicated, because whatever its faults the stimulus bill is ultimately non-ideological: Shoveling vast amounts of money out the door is simply what you do in circumstances like these if you want to avoid utter economic calamity. The money-shovelers are empiricists, in other words, and their opponents are know-nothings.
This is pretty convenient, but it’s also sort of nonsense. Imagine an alternate reality in which the economy is in fine shape and Barack Obama’s just been elected president. Perhaps he’d go hog wild and propose a trillion dollars in unfunded spending just to sneak a bunch of liberal wish list items on to the government debt ledger. But I don’t really think so. And I don’t think Ross does either. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think it’s much more likely that under kinder circumstances Obama would carry forward with the plan he campaigned on–to let the Bush tax cuts expire, tackle the energy, climate and health crises and, maybe, give the middle class a tax cut. That, of course, was before the economy started shedding 600,000 jobs a month, but it made some sense at the time. Just as Jon’s analysis suggested it would.
Now imagine Barack Obama is a Republican. He’s just been elected and the economy is in the toilet. What’s his answer? Tax cuts for the rich! What if the economy’s in decent shape? Tax cuts for the rich! What if we’d just been invaded by China, Canada, and Mexico, and alien space craft were hovering over Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.? Tax cuts for the rich!
This contrast carries across the board. If burning fossil fuels was harmless, for instance, would Democrats stand behind a politically fraught plan to price carbon just for the fun of it? If the private insurance industry had somehow contained costs and covered 98 percent of the people in the country, would Democrats be demanding major, complicated reforms to the health care system? Obviously not.
But our national energy and health policies aren’t successful. They’re broken. And the sad truth is the Democratic solutions probably can’t be implemented. Not because they don’t carry empirical water, but because they don’t involve tax cuts and other privileges (like polluting) for the rich. In a way, the very ambitiousness of the reforms vindicates Jon’s distillation of liberalism on its own. If there wasn’t something to them, or if they weren’t necessary, they wouldn’t exist. There’d be no reason or constituency for them, except, perhaps, among insane people. Tax cuts for the rich, by contrast, are simple, and unambitious, and there will always be people agitating for them no matter how badly they harm the country.