January 28, 2009: a day that will live in . . . ?
Yesterday, without the support of a single House Republican, President Barack Obama's $819 billion stimulus package passed the lower chamber by a final tally of 244-188. The 188 "nay" votes were made up of virtually every House Republican and 11 "Blue Dog" Democrats to boot. Despite this lopsided "us against them" vote, its passage was never in doubt; after all, the Democrats do possess a sizable majority. Those opposing the mammoth package of spending and tax cuts argued that there was far too much of the former, and not nearly enough of the latter.
Now it's on to the Senate, where a slightly different version of the president's economic recovery plan is being considered. The Senate vote, which will take place next week is likewise, not in doubt. Heck, it will likely even pick up a few Republican votes. Then it'll be on to a House-Senate conference committee, where representatives of the two chambers will iron out their differences and come up with a compromise measure that both can live with though neither will love.
Because I'm a dyed-in-the-wool political junkie -- and a bit of a masochist to boot -- I decided to peruse H.R. 1/S.336/1, the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," the stimulus package's official name. Turns out it's 1,588 pages and counting! And that's not even counting the Congressional Budget Office's Cost Estimate (33 pages), or Republican version, co-sponsored by Representatives Camp and Cantor, which adds yet another 31 pages. Nobody -- and that includes yours truly -- has had the time to either ingest or digest the mare's nest of titles, subtitles, amendments, provisions, pie charts and last-minute pork. And yet, there are senators, representatives and commentators galore who have been both glibly and gleefully weighing in on the positive -- or negative -- effects of this truly Brobdingnagian bill.
Anyone who claims they have read it -- let alone understood its welter of sections, sub-sections, amendments and riders -- is either a member of both Mensa and the Society of Speed Readers, or a flat-out liar.
From what I've been reading and hearing, the latter category is showing every indication of filling up fast. A handful of examples from the Department of "How in the Heck Are You So Sure of That?"
- On his January 28 broadcast, Rush Limbaugh permitted House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) to declare: "Even the Congressional Budget Office [CBO], controlled by Democrats now, says it is not a stimulative bill." In my perusal of the CBO's analysis of H.R. 1, [January 26 ] I came across the following: "CBO anticipates that implementation of H.R. 1 would have a noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years." [Page 1, 5th paragraph.] To make matters even more maddening, Limbaugh, that most listened to of all conservative talkers actually said -- speaking of our new president -- "I hope he fails!"
- In a piece he published in his January 26 FoxNew.com column, Glen Beck falsely asserted that "[o]nly 3 percent" of the economic stimulus plan would be "spent in the next 12 months." Actually, the same CBO report cited above estimated that $92 billion in outlays -- 11.2 percent of the estimated 819 billion stimulus measure -- would be spent in the first seven-and-a-half months after its enactment. And, when taking the bill's tax cut provisions into account, that percentage comes up to 20.7 percent within the program's first seven-and-a-half months. [Page 1, 2nd paragraph.]
- Numerous media figures -- including David Brooks, Larry Kudlow, Brit Hume and George Stephanopoulos -- have asserted that every job created by H.R. 1 would cost at minimum $275,000. The aforementioned probably got their statistics from a January 15 "Stimulus Quick Facts" press release by the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee. That release stated that "President-elect Obama has said that his proposed stimulus legislation will create or save 3 million jobs. This means that his legislation will spend about $275,000 per job." OK, $816,000,000,000 divided by 3,000,000 jobs does equal $272,000. The problem with this isn't the math; it's the assumption that every single one of the appropriated dollars are going for jobs, jobs, and nothing but. This is patent nonsense. There are other tangible benefits stemming from the stimulus package including infrastructure improvements, and investments in such widely diverse areas as health, education, and public safety.
Ever since the beginning of the first Roosevelt Administration and the 73rd Congress [1933-1935], the "First Hundred Days" have represented history's Gold Standard for Achievement when it comes to dealing with national crises. As any political junkie worth his or her salt knows, during Roosevelt's "First Hundred Days," the 73rd Congress successfully enacted or created:
- The Banking Acts
- The Civilian Conservation Corps
- The Federal Emergency Relief Administration
- The Agricultural Adjustment Administration
- The Tennessee Valley Authority
- The National Industrial Recovery Act
- The "Good Neighbor" policy
It is true that FDR had an even more overwhelmingly Democratic House and Senate in 1933 than does Barack Obama in 2009. FDR's House was 72.4% Democratic [312-114], his Senate 63% [60-35] (Yes, I know, the math doesn't exactly work, but you have to remember, there were a couple of vacancies and a handful of members of the "Farmer-Labor" Party.) And yet, it was not just the overwhelming numbers on the Democratic side of the aisle which led to the enactment of so much emergency legislation in those storied "First Hundred Days." It was also the fact that an awful lot of Republicans, sensing just how critical the situation was, voted with the new president. Unlike today's crop, they weren't primarily interested in grabbing a possible political advantage for the midterm elections two years hence; they were primarily concerned with righting the floundering ship of state.
In listening to the objections being voiced by Republican leaders Boehner, Cantor, McConnell and Kyl, what we hear are words directed as much to the Republican base as to anyone else. They are addressing those who will always favor tax cuts over increased spending, and those who find fault any time the Federal Government involves itself even remotely in areas like family planning, stem-cell research, or global warming. It is distressing in the max to think that the GOP is more interested in gaining points they can spend in the 2010 mid-term elections, than seriously addressing themselves to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
President Barack Obama's "First Hundred Days" will end on April 30, 2009. Let's hope that he, along with his advisers and members of the 111th Congress, will have by then enacted a smart, imaginative and purposive fiscal stimulus package; one that will ultimately right the ship of state and enable it to navigate the waves just over the horizon.
©2009 Kurt F. Stone