As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Feel The Centrist Pride

Presidents Ben Nelson and Susan Collins today were strutting their peacock feathers and engaging in a full round of back-patting for cutting back the stimulus package, using weasel words that would have launched 1,000 George Carlin bits:

Q: Do you agree, or how do you respond to Paul Krugman in the New York Times who said that centrists have done their best to “make the plan weaker and worse?”

NELSON: Well, first of all, they’re not cuts. Let’s just get that up front. These are adjustments downward from numbers that were offered by the House in their version and by the Senate in its version.

"Adjustments downward." Sounds like something an accountant would make. Just an eraser swipe and a stroke of a pencil in the ledger. Nothing harmful. Just an adjustment.

Except that those adjustments will cost hundreds of thousands of people their jobs, and more importantly, will cost them the ability to produce in the economy and provide income tax revenue and increase economic activity, which is the whole point of the bill.

The House puts greater emphasis on helping states and localities avoid wide-scale cuts in services and layoffs of public employees. The Senate cut $40 billion of that aid from its bill, which is expected to be approved Tuesday.

The Senate plan, reached in an agreement late Friday between Democrats and three moderate Republicans, focuses somewhat more heavily on tax cuts, provides far less generous health care subsidies for the unemployed and lowers a proposed increase in food stamps.

To help allay Republican concerns about the cost, the Senate proposal even scales back President Obama’s signature middle-class tax cut. The Senate plan also creates new tax incentives to encourage Americans to buy homes and cars within the next year.

As Krugman notes, the centrists "did their best to make the plan weaker and worse," and the sickest thing is that they seem to be proud of it, touting aid to education in their version of the bill when they actually slashed it:

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.” [...]

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.

The absolute worst part is the cuts to state aid, which will force the states to cut their budgets and reduce jobs during a recession, ensuring that it will be longer and deeper. The proud as a peacock centrists made it so that the states will have to actively work against the recovery package itself.

All so they could make room for tax cuts to wealthy people who flip their houses, and the patch to the alternative minimum tax, which these supposedly fiscally responsible Senators are too cowardly to pay for. They stuck it in this stimulus so they wouldn't have to offset the $70 billion dollar cost with revenue increases. Nelson, Collins and all the rest can never call themselves fiscally responsible ever again. This is the most irresponsible thing I've ever seen.

The question is, as I've said repeatedly, what happens in conference. The centrists are talking tough, saying that any significant changes to the bill will be met by them with a no vote.

Reconciling the remaining differences won't be easy. Even before negotiations have started, one influential Republican supporter of the bill, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is stressing her desire for the cost of the final package to be held to $800 billion. She is suggesting that her support for a final compromise package can't be taken for granted. "I made no commitments," she said.

And it can be, by taking out these silly, non-stimulative tax breaks and adding back in precisely the kind of targeted, temporary spending, to schools and state governments and relief for the poor, that the bill was designed to do. The President said today at the Elkhart, IN town hall: "The Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars. I would like to see some of it restored." There is upward momentum from 3,000 local town hall meetings this weekend, many of which came to their own conclusions
about the importance of the type of things taken out of the Senate version. Will Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe or Ben Nelson or Arlen Specter tank the economy because they don't get everything on their wish list? I'm not so sure. Specter has acknowledged the pressure from the left side of the aisle leading him to support a compromise, and in his WaPo op-ed today he said that inaction is not an option. The moderates sat by idly when their compromises were dropped in conference during the Bush years time and again. Would they stonewall a different conference report this time, and be on the hook for economic disaster?

I think it's unclear. And it's worth keeping up the pressure to let Congress know that we want a big, bold plan that restores cuts to the states and education at the expense of non-stimulative tax cuts.

Capital switchboard



...Joe Lieberman nominates moderates for the Congressional Medal of Honor. If the chance to make Holy Joe cry doesn't get you to the phones, what will?

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