Making The Case
The President, sensing that the recovery package is getting away from him, is finally using the bully pulpit, doing a rare midweek full Ginsburg and sitting down with every top news anchor separately in the Oval Office. These interviews will dribble out over the course of the day and set the agenda for both today and tomorrow.
But I think that time has perhaps passed. The Republican strategy of demanding "bipartisanship" as a cover for limiting spending in the bill continues to work. Yesterday the anti-smoking and STD prevention provisions were tossed out, and given that everyone will abruptly get religion on fiscal responsibility the moment that this package is out the door, believe that they're not coming back. Good thing lawmakers understand the importance of preventive medicine as a cost saver! (Health care is, frankly, doomed, if this is the attitude.)
The amendment process in the Senate is a mess, in a word, with each Senator having their own conception of the bill, adding and subtracting so that there are basically 55 different bills out there. Jon Ensign and Barbara Boxer (!) want to repatriate offshore funds at a dramatically reduced tax rate for corporations, even though this was tried before and a resulting investigation is looking into abuses to the program.
Republicans say they just want the bill to "create jobs" and not be a wish list for long-desired spending. And yet they're trying desperately to add nuclear and clean coal funding into the bill. ANY bill like this is going to be a Christmas tree, and so the strategy of screaming pork is just rank hypocrisy... but it's working.
I have to say that this process has been pretty enervating. The public still wants a bill to be passed, but their conception of what it is and what it should do is shoddy. I agree with Tom Edsall:
Now, as the centerpiece of the Obama administration's agenda -- the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is before the Senate -- there is a growing chorus of economists, policy specialists, and commentators -- men and women across the ideological spectrum -- who suggest that the legislation falls far short of Obama's own standards, that it is rooted in the past, that it lacks ingenuity, that it is not sufficiently geared toward innovation, that it contains a raft of special interest tax breaks and subsidies, that huge chunks of cash will be funneled through old bureaucratic pipelines, and that the measure will plunge the country deeper into debt with little to show for it.
"I just don't understand," said one key Obama transition aides who worked on the economic program, "how a group of A-level people could produce such a B-minus, C-plus product," referring to top economic advisers Larry Summers, Jason Furman, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia professor of economics and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize, is a firm believer in the necessity of a major stimulus package and described to the Huffington Post the measure before Congress as "much better than doing nothing. The alternative is massive job loss. [Even with the new spending in the bill], there will be large job loses, but there will be fewer." Stiglitz has reservations, however: "The criticism I've raised is that it is not optimally designed from an economic point of view. There should be maximum bang for the buck."
Of course, it's not totally their fault, this is an equal-opportunity problem. And messaging is a big part of it - the GOP has outworked us. Obama has a chance today to put things back on track, but the train may have left the station.