I’m really shocked by the extent to which the architects of the Senate cuts to the recovery package aren’t being made to offer any kind of justification for their actions. And in the absence of pressure, they certainly aren’t doing it of their own accord. I wanted to see, for example, what Ben Nelson (D-NE) had to say for himself, and what he had to say was this, with his partner in crime Susan Collins (R-ME) chiming in:
“This bipartisan agreement delivers the help millions of Americans need in this time of economic turmoil,” said Senator Nelson. “It fuels two powerful engines: major tax cuts for the middle class, and targeted investments in American infrastructure and job growth. It also pares back $110 billion of spending that didn’t belong in the bill. We’ve trimmed the fat, fried the bacon, and milked the sacred cows. What remains will fund education, an energy Smart Grid, tax credits for homebuyers and other critical infrastructure.”
“This deal represents a victory for the American people,” said Senator Collins. “We came together to tackle the most immediate problem facing the nation. This package cuts $110 billion in unnecessary expenditures. These are not minor adjustments, but major changes. It contains robust spending on infrastructure to create jobs, $87 billion in assistance for states, and assistance to schools, especially for special education and Pell grants. This bill is not perfect, but it represents a bipartisan, effective and targeted approach to the crisis facing our country.”
Would you ever in a million years have guessed from this rhetoric that the primary change Collins and Nelson made was to implement big reductions in aid to states and, especially, in funding for education? I think not. In their rhetoric, Collins and Nelson preserved vital education funding and state assistance while eliminating various metaphorical animal products. Meanwhile, actual changes Collins and Nelson made include:
- Elimination of $25 billion in flexible funding for state governments.
- Cut $7.5 billion in funding for “state incentive grants” to help states make progress toward NCLB goals.
- Eliminated $19.5 billion in construction aid for schools and colleges.
- Reduced new aid for the Head Start early childhood program by $1 billion.
Nowhere in their statement do Nelson and Collins make any effort to justify these decisions. Indeed, they don’t even seem prepared to admit that they made these decisions. And some of them seem like really crazy decisions. Many stimulus skeptics such as Arnold Kling have been calling attention to the difficulty involved in dealing with sectoral shifts in the economy. One such shift is that we’ve seen a lot of job losses in the building trades industry. Funding school construction would directly target those idle resources and put them to work—something you’d like to do with stimulus but that’s often hard to execute. And if we don’t do school construction in the stimulus, we’ll still need to do school construction at some point. But instead of doing it now when it would help the economy, we’ll be doing it at some future point when construction projects are more expensive to undertake.