Slash and Burn

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"Slash and Burn"

By Brian Beutler

Reading posts like this, I’ve started to wonder who’s advising the so-called moderates as they hash over which provisions to cut from the stimulus. Ben Nelson serves on the Armed Services, Agriculture and Appropriations committees, and his partner in crime, Susan Collins, serves on the Homeland Security, Armed Services, Aging, and Appropriations committees. In their service to the country, these two senators might have learned a thing or two about arbitrarily or opportunistically slashing or inflating spending numbers, and in that regard they’re well-suited to the task, but they aren’t particularly known for their economic acumen, and their responsibilities on the Hill reflect that fact.

Meanwhile, David Brooks writes that “[m]oderate economists [have] looked at the package and complained about the vast parts that don’t even pretend to stimulate,” and though I think I know basically who he’s talking about, I don’t see any evidence that those peoples’ criticisms are the basis for the work the centrists are doing.

This is of a piece with the problem I was trying to describe here. The size and details of the Democratic stimulus proposals emerged from a process that involved consultation with some of the leading economic minds on the left. Conservative Republicans had a big opportunity to call upon serious skeptics to craft their opposition and alternative proposals, but, of course, serious skeptics don’t support things like the Jim DeMint plan, so they instead called upon Grover Norquist, Mitt Romney, and Joe the Plumber and did a war dance for continuing the Bush tax cuts and an end to government spending. No big surprise there.

But now it seems the stimulus won’t pass unless it’s first cut by $100 billion. That number is, of course, totally arbitrary–arrived at, once again without the input of any of Brooks’ so-called moderate economists. The opening bid, then, was crafted by Larry Summers, et al. The counter bid was designed by cranks from the Heritage Foundation. In between is a version of the Summers bid after a bunch of amateurs hacked at it blindly with a machete. These would appear to be the three options. To a group of 535 sane people, the choice would be obvious, but, as John Cole notes, one of the parties (200 or so members of Congress) are not sane, so the obvious choice is out of the running.

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