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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Misinformation Brigade

The Sunday talk shows were filled with conservatives (it really is a new era on Sunday mornings, isn't it?) trashing the Obama recovery plan and demanding more concessions in exchange for their votes, despite the fact that they have almost no leverage in the Congress. This is mostly a head game, using Obama's supposed commitment to bipartisanship to force the types of unwise policies Americans roundly rejected at the polls into the final bill.

“Right now, given the concerns that we have over the size of this package and all of the spending in this package, we don’t think it’s going to work,” the House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And so if it’s the plan that I see today, put me down in the no column.”

While the plan can potentially pass the Democrat-dominated House without Republican support, it will continue to face opposition when it comes before the Senate, said Senator John McCain of Arizona, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.” At least two Republicans will need to approve the bill for a filibuster-proof majority vote of 60.

Senator McCain, who lost the presidential election to Mr. Obama in November, said that he planned to vote no unless the bill were changed.

“We need to make tax cuts permanent, and we need to make a commitment that there’ll be no new taxes,” Mr. McCain said. “We need to cut payroll taxes. We need to cut business taxes.”

After all, McCain did win the election, so you'd have to concede these points.

Republicans already have $275 billion in tax cuts in this bill, pre-negotiated into the mix by the Obama Administration, and it's not enough. They don't want to be associated with anything passed succesfully by Democrats because they fundamentally don't want Obama to succeed. Further, the media is swallowing whole these Republican criticisms, based on conjecture and misreading and sometimes total fantasy. That's not only true of Obama's dinner partners.

Charles Krauthammer: “Look, this is one of the worst bills in galactic history. … FDR left behind the Hoover dam and Eisenhower left behind the interstate highway system. We will leave behind, after spending $1 trillion, a dog run in East Potomac Park.” [Fox News, 1/24/09]

David Brooks: “It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach — rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.” [New York Times, 1/23/09]

Bill Kristol: “The stimulus has so much bad stuff in it. … They let the House Democrats get out of control in sort of writing a pork-laden bill. Politically, I think the Republicans have more room too argue for changes and ultimately vote against it.” [Fox News Sunday, 1/25/09]

Worse is that the chattering classes have decided to become armchair economists, misinterpreting data along the way. Fortunately the Shrill One was on hand on ABC to set things straight, but he's not given space in every cable news discussion and "analysis" article.

DONALDSON: The new head of the president's council of economic advisers, a few years ago, studied recessions, including our big depression, and wrote a paper saying that she couldn't find that stimulus programs had really worked in any major sense, now, but I think it's right...

KRUGMAN: That's not quite right, actually.

DONALDSON: Am I close enough for government work?


KRUGMAN: No, actually. What she found was monetary policy works better than fiscal policy. Problem is we don't have any monetary policy because interest rates are already at zero. So it's actually a paper which is very relevant to experience since the Great Depression but not where we are right now.

Clearly the bipartisan fetishists in the media, as well as those who are trying to re-learn Econ 101 overnight, are signaling that only the midpoint of the pre-compromised baseline bill and Republican "destroy all taxes" philosophy would be the most wise and just. Stephanopoulos today couldn't get over the fact that Nancy Pelosi wouldn't accept GOP ideas, with Pelosi insisting that those ideas have to actually make sense:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president’s made it pretty clear that he wants this to be a real bipartisan effort, yet House Republicans have said they’ve been shut out of this process. There were no Republican votes in the Appropriations Committee, no Republican votes in the Ways and Means Committee. Is this the bipartisan effort President Obama has called for?

PELOSI: Well, because the Republicans don’t vote for it doesn’t mean they didn’t have an opportunity to. We -- the Republicans asked for a couple of things, one, that related to process that you described, that there would be an open process where they could present their amendments. They didn’t vote for the final bill, but we voted for some of their amendments in the committees that had the markups the day before yesterday and this week.

Secondly, the -- some of the ideas that they had put forth in earlier meetings, President-elect Obama at the time on January 5th had our first bipartisan meeting, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and some ideas that were put on the table by the Republicans at that time were contained in the bills that we wrote.

And now, this morning, they had some more suggestions, which we will review and see if they create jobs, turn the economy around, and do so in a cost-effective way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of their suggestions that they’ve put forward are permanently cutting the two lowest tax brackets from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent, also new help for small businesses. Can you include those in your package?

PELOSI: When -- when we had the recovery package last year, we brought the tax credit all the way down, regarding using payroll tax as a -- as a tax and therefore you get a credit. Against using that precedent, which was established with President Bush, we built upon that in this legislation, and we prefer that route.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And they’re saying that’s giving a check to people who don’t pay taxes rather than cutting taxes for people who do.

PELOSI: But they do pay taxes, payroll taxes. And President Bush agreed with that last year. And using that precedent, we have built upon that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re not going to take these new Republican ideas?

PELOSI: Well, we will take some. We will judge them by their ability to create jobs, to -- to help turn the economy around, to stabilize the economy, and to see how much they cost. But we’re open to them, and we’ll review them, and it all has to be done right away because our bill has to come to the floor this week [...]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then tell us what’s in the package, then. I know you don’t agree with -- completely with the Congressional Budget Office, this estimate, assessment of what’s in the package.

PELOSI: Well, they’re going to reassess it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They’re going to look at it. But what they’ve shown so far is that only about 40 percent of the discretionary spending, including the highway spending in the bill, is going to be spent right away in the next year-and-a-half.

PELOSI: First of all, the Congressional Budget Office only looked at 40 percent of the investments in the bill, by their own admission. They didn’t even take a complete look at the bill. We have a letter from the administration that says 75 percent of the -- of the investments will be paid out in the first 18 months.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re committed to that?

PELOSI: We’re committed to that [...]

STEPHANOPOULOS: We also heard from Congressman Boehner coming out of the meeting today that, again, a lot of that spending doesn’t even meet the same test you just talked about right now [...] Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family-planning services, how is that stimulus?

PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crisis now, and part of it, what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements, are to help the states meet their financial needs.

One of those -- one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, is -- will reduce cost to the state and to the federal government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?

PELOSI: No apologies. No. We have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.

Food stamps, unemployment insurance, some of the initiatives you just mentioned, what the economists have told us, from right to left, there is more bang for the buck, is the term they use, by investing in food stamps and in unemployment insurance than in any tax cuts.

Nonetheless, we are committed to the tax cuts because they do have a positive impact on the economy, even though not as big as the investments.

I can quibble with Pelosi on some of the details, but you can see what she's up against here.

So far, Obama has treated the pre-compromised initial package as his final offer instead of a negotiating point. The same with Pelosi, and Congressional Dems even dailed some of the tax cuts back (though not enough - business tax breaks should still be sacrificed in exchange for more infrastructure improvements). Meanwhile, the media is enabling the right wing by running with any unsubstantiated press release to undermine the bill, and next week I'd expect this to run at a fever pitch. We don't have a lot of history of being able to count on Democrats to hold the line, so their performance on this bill will be a key indicator on what to expect. Will the attitude be "I won" or "What can I get you?"

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