Ben Nelson’s Incoherent Defense Of Slashing School Construction Funds

In a move that “flunks” every economic test, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) hammered out a “compromise” stimulus plan over the weekend that “completely eliminated the original plan’s $16 billion for K-12 school repair and modernization, along with another $3.5 billion for higher education school construction.” Bemoaning the cuts, the Economic Policy Institute wrote, “By every definition, the school construction money is perfect stimulus.”

Last night, when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow grilled Nelson on why he cut funds for new school construction, he could only offer a totally incoherent condemnation of “unfunded mandates” like No Child Left Behind. He suggested that if the federal government provided funds to build new schools, it could somehow represent a malevolent interference in local education issues:

NELSON: Well, the Republicans who are looking to join with us have an aversion to federal money going for that kind of a program. It is a state responsibility, local responsibility. Local governing boards — boards of education. I, too, am concerned about money coming from Washington. As governor, I faced the under-funded mandate of special education where the Federal Government promised to be a partner with it. I faced back here a decision about “No Child Left Behind,” another under-funded federal mandate.

When Maddow pressed him, saying that surely his problem should be with federal intervention into the content of education, not the buildings in which education takes place, Nelson made a 180-degree turn, forgetting his “concern about money coming from Washington” to insist that there was still “an awful lot of money going to education.” Watch it:

Building new schools seems to be a win-win-win: It puts some of the nearly one million construction workers who have lost their jobs this year back to work; it helps facilitate better learning by improving the classrooms where children spend their days; and it provides a needed and timely jolt to the economy. “By even the most conservative estimates it would create about 150,000 jobs,” EPI wrote.

What’s more, as Matthew Yglesias pointed out yesterday, Nelson and Collins touted their plan’s education funding, specifically highlighting their funding for “special education” — two days before Nelson slammed special education as an unfunded mandate and derided Washington funding of education. All this while they CUT $7.5 billion in funding to help states make progress toward goals set by No Child Left Behind. All told, the Senate bill eliminates more than $25 billion in education funding originally included in the House version.

In other words, Nelson opposes school construction, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, because it is like an unfunded mandate. At the same time, he touts the inclusion of more mandated funds for special education, while also cutting money to fund the unfunded mandate of No Child Left Behind.


HuffPo’s Jason Linkins has more on the interview in which, he says, “Nelson just goes off the rails.”

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,Ezra and Atrios observe that “confrontation from the left” is what is “entirely missing from our political discourse.”

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