Whither Stimulus?

by Ryan Avent

The story of the morning is that the stimulus bill may have run into serious trouble in the Senate. Democratic leaders have more or less said that they don’t have the votes to pass their version of the package. This, of course, raises an interesting question — do they lack 50 votes or 60? And if they have 50 but not 60, then why not at least make the opposition work for the bones Democrats are preparing to throw them, by actually filibustering.

I’m concerned that the process of finding 60 votes may be harder than it seems. In the Post today:

Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy.

Two things to note about this. One is that there’s nothing wrong with the size of the bill (it could actually stand to be larger). Rather, there are problems with the composition. In retrospect, Democrats should probably have seen this coming, and should have tried to stick with textbook stimulus proposals to help innoculate against some of the Republican attacks. But it remains the case that we should really be improving and enlarging the bill.

The other issue is that there are actually multiple criticisms coming from the right, some of which are more valid than others. If enough Senators can be peeled away to get the bill through by improving how the bill performs on the three Ts — timely, targeted, and temporary — then there’s no problem seeking compromise. But many Republicans have basically no interest in producing a good stimulus bill. Rather they’d like to see the stimulus package contain GOP priorities, many of which fare quite poorly as stimulus. Most Senate Republicans seem to want a much smaller package, consisting exclusively of tax cuts, with a decidedly less progressive bent than those offered by Democrats. This isn’t bad just because it flies in the face of Democratic beliefs; money for rich people also stinks as a fiscal shot in the arm. If the Democratic leadership runs into this GOP core before hitting 60, then truly we are in serious trouble. And we isn’t Democrats, it’s the global economy.