Friday, February 13, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy, apparently in need of continuing rehab or other medical attention related to his recently discovered cancer, will not be present for the Senate vote on the final passage of the stimulus bill. The pro side will probably, hopefully, still gain 60 votes, however.

Nonetheless, and I hate to be inpolitic, but at what point should the appropriate decision makers and thought leaders in the party encourage all involved that (a) Kennedy should retire and (b) the Democratic governor of Massachusetts should appoint a Democratic successor to Kennedy's seat, someone who can be on hand for the important decisions and votes ahead?

Conservatives and "fiscal discipline"

After eight years of "deficits don't matter" the new Republican minority is now in danger of ridding the world of fainting couches. The blatant absurdity and hypocrisy of it all is staggering. But fortunately not all observers are buying it:

A Republican party that added more than $30 trillion to the future debt in a time of boom has no credible answer but raw partisanship for opposing $800 billion in the swiftest downturn in employment since the Great Depression. That's the bottom line. The party that campaigned for eight years on the principle that "deficits don't matter" has no good faith standing to oppose a measure that provides the minimum to ensure some kind of bottom in the looming depression. To take their fiscal conservatism seriously at this point and in this crisis is to engage in some kind of instant amnesia............

The GOP has passed what amounts to a spending and tax-cutting and borrowing stimulus package every year since George W. Bush came to office. They have added tens of trillions to future liabilities and they turned a surplus into a trillion dollar deficit - all in a time of growth. They then pick the one moment when demand is collapsing in an alarming spiral to argue that fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable. I mean: seriously.

The bad faith and refusal to be accountable for their own conduct for the last eight years is simply inescapable. There is no reason for the GOP to have done what they have done for the last eight years and to say what they are saying now except pure, cynical partisanship, and a desire to wound and damage the new presidency. The rest is transparent cant.

The Republican Opposition

Via Andrew Sullivan, Booman makes what I think is a pretty valid analysis of future presidential-congressional relations:

The Republicans wanted to demonstrate some strength at the outset of this administration. They wanted to prove that they can maintain cohesion in opposition to things they truly oppose. It was important for them to send this message even though it was a discordant rejection of Obama's olive branch. They probably would have sought to send such a message on any major vote, so the stimulus wasn't necessarily the primary cause of their reaction. But there is something important about how the stimulus was put together that also helps explain Republican behavior. The stimulus package wasn't written using 'regular order' and did not come up through the committee and subcommittee process. There was a good reason for this...expediency. But that doesn't change the fact that the Republicans had no opportunity to influence the bill in committee.

Going forward, individual Republicans will have the option to work in a constructive way with the Democrats on the committees on which they serve. This is basically the only way House Republicans can have any influence over legislation over the next four years. Republicans that learn how to play this game will get to co-sponsor bills and bring home projects and appropriations to their home districts. Those that don't learn how to play this game will have nothing tangible to show for being a member of Congress. It might be comforting to be a member of the opposition and a champion among Republican activists, but it doesn't make for much of a day job.

What I'm basically saying is that the Republicans, as a group, want to oppose Obama at every turn. But it will not be easy to keep a unified opposition in place over time. I predict it will fall apart quite quickly. And then the Republican leaders will have to choose their battles very carefully because it will be hard to keep the caucus unified for more than a few key votes. Even on the stimulus, the Republicans lost. They won some important concessions, but they lost.

It will also be impossible to attack Obama as successfully as the Republicans attacked Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was a deeply flawed person who won a plurality of the vote. Barack Obama cannot demonized so easily.

So, no, the Republicans are not going to embrace bipartisanship or suddenly begin wishing the Obama administration well. But they're also not going to maintain a rock solid opposition. They can't.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Democratic unity

One of the aspects of the stimulus debate in the Senate that I'm a bit surprised hasn't gotten more attention is the fact that it has gotten unanimous support from Democrats. That's not really a given, with Mary Landrieaux from La., the two Senators from Arkansas, who have been known to buck the party, along with both Nelsons (FL and NE) sometimes only nominally in the Democratic column. And, let's give credit where credit is due, Joe Lieberman has voted with the Dems as well; again, not a given with his performance during the recent campaign. And of course historically, Democratic unity has not always been forthcoming. If this blog did research it might be able to show whether any Democratic senators went against President Clinton's own, much smaller, stimulus bill in 1993. Off the top of my head, I'd guess he didn't get all of them.

League of Morons

And WATB's.

John Cole says, Get them a binky:

I guess next time you want a final say in the shaping of a piece of legislation (and you already had a ginormous say in the current legislation) in the conference committee, you probably should bring more than three votes to the table in both houses. Kind of funny how that works, as all the people who voted for the bill on the GOP side are right there working with the Democrats to finalize the bill.

You WATB’s demagogued, lied, whined, and had a hissy fit about the bill, then voted against it en masse even though it contained a number of provisions you wanted and you had inserted in the bill, and then took to the air waves pleased as punch with yourselves. The adults watched you and then decided you needed a timeout. This is bad and wrong, why?

You can whine about this, or you can make sure it doesn’t happen again. Any guesses which path the GOP takes?

*** Update ***

Two quick things. Bush’s signature issue in 2000, a tax cut bill a bill designed to deal with the surplus from the Clinton years, was passed in 2001 with 12 Democratic votes in the Senate, 28 in the house, all in the aftermath of a very contentious election and basically written precisely as the Republicans wanted it (with a few concessions, such as sunset provisions).

By comparison, on the heels of an enormous victory, with large majorities in the House and Senate, facing economic collapse, the Republicans were able to provide a whopping three (3) votes to a bill that before it even was introduced was loaded with tax cuts designed to appease Republicans, and then went through a huge revision to remove things that many republicans found offensive to their delicate sensibilities. Three. Votes. The entire Republican party, in both houses, voted overwhelmingly against tax cuts for the middle class because it was beneficial to them politically. Country first, or something.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stimulus enough to work?

A couple of articles today have me feeling a bit better about the stimulus bill, and its potential effectiveness, despite its weakening in the Senate version.

First is this article in the NYT reporting the amount of money going to education even after the Senate version's cuts:

The Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers proposed unprecedented levels of education spending in both the House and Senate stimulus bills. And even after cuts made Friday by a bipartisan group led by Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, the Senate bill would still provide $80 billion in emergency spending for public schools and state universities, well above the Department of Education’s current $59 billion discretionary budget.

Both the House and the Senate would hugely increase spending on Title I, a program of specialized classroom efforts to help educate poor children, and on education for disabled children.

The House bill would raise Title I spending over two years by $13 billion; for the current fiscal year, spending would rise to $20 billion from about $14.5 billion. The two-year increase in the Senate bill would be $11.4 billion.

Both the House and Senate bills would also increase federal spending on special education by $13 billion over two years.

That even the Senate bill would provide more money than the Department of Ed's annual discretionary budget sounds rather impressive.

And then there is this post by Kevin Drum detailing the combined impact of the stimulus bill along with the expected budget deficits to run over the next few years:

So: With the cut, total fiscal stimulus over the three years starting last October comes to $2.7 trillion and 12 million jobs. If we had kept spending at its higher level, it would have come to $2.8 trillion and perhaps 12.5 million jobs. That's a difference of about 3%.

Now, the nature of that 3% is hardly defensible. State aid and school construction are way better uses of the money than a lot of stuff that was left in the bill. Still, the fact remains that the total amount of stimulus over three years is $2.7 trillion, not the $800 billion number that dominates the discussion. That's a helluva lot of stimulus, and if it doesn't do the job it's doubtful that $2.8 trillion will do it either.

I'm a little dubious as to how accurately X amount of government spending leads to X number of jobs. But if this is the bigger picture as Drum suggests, the ultimate effect of national policy should be a positive one.

It also reinforces something I posted about last week--the ultimate role played by the upcoming budget proposals and discussions, and the filibuster-insulated Reconciliation process that governs it. The stimulus money obviously can get fast-tracked sooner, while the money to eventually to come out of budget reconciliation is several months down the road. Still, the stimulus is far from being the end point of government intervention in the economy.

$3 Trillion > $800 Billion

Despite all the hand-wringing from Senate Republicans--and their cable teevee enablers--36 out of 41 of them voted for $3 trillion worth of tax cuts last week.


In the Senate, Republicans inveighed against “pork” — although the wasteful spending they claimed to have identified (much of it was fully justified) was a trivial share of the bill’s total. And they decried the bill’s cost — even as 36 out of 41 Republican senators voted to replace the Obama plan with $3 trillion, that’s right, $3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The New Deal worked

From Devilstower at the Daily Kos.

And read this, too, while you're at it.

Safer food, safer consumers

Hopefully, amidst all the anguish surrounding the stimulus bill, the Wall Street bailout, and media gobbledigoop, the little matter of making sure our food is safe and the people who eat it less at risk won't get swept under the carpet.

Fortunately, someone now appears to be on the job (hat tip, Americablog).


WASHINGTON - The peanut recall offers a prime opportunity to merge all federal food safety oversight into one agency, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture share oversight responsibilities, along with other government agencies, dividing authority along lines that don't always make sense. For example, the FDA oversees eggs in the shell, while the Agriculture Department is responsible for processed egg products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency share some food oversight as well.

"You can't have two systems and be able to reassure people you've got the job covered," Vilsack said. "This is a grand opportunity for us to take a step back and rethink our approach."

A salmonella outbreak blamed on Peanut Corp. of America has sickened at least 575 people in 43 states. At least eight have died. More than 1,300 foods that used ingredients from the company's processing plant in Blakely, Ga., have been recalled. While the outbreak appears to be slowing down, new illnesses are still being reported.