Saturday, February 7, 2009

Obama and the Stimulus Bill: A Muddled Tale

I'll have many occasions to praise Obama rather than bury him, but over at the boards we've been having a somewhat heated discussion about his handling of the stimulus bill and I felt like I should fire the first salvo here.

I think his problem was that he didn't understand at the outset that he had to sell this thing. The idea that he let the House go about its business in the awkward way that it did in order to lay some kind of groundwork for a grand final outcome in the Senate. . . I just don't buy that he controls the weather to quite that extent. He didn't get publicly involved in the slightest until very recently. Obama, like everyone, has flaws, and I think we shouldn't be blind to the fact that he's a little conceited about his own ability to get things done. The final bill will be pretty good -- Paul Krugman's pleas for much more spending notwithstanding -- but look at what he's given up for no apparent reason other than chasing the grand bipartisan compromise he's always talked about in such glowing terms:

$40 billion State Fiscal Stabilization
$16 billion School Construction
$1.25 billion project-based rental
$2.25 billion Neighborhood Stabilization (Eliminate)
$1.2 billion in Retrofiting Project 8 Housing
$7.5 billion of State Incentive Grants
$3.5 billion Higher Ed Construction (Eliminated)
$2 billion broadband
$1 billion Head Start/Early Start
$5.8 billion Health Prevention Activity
$2 billion HIT Grants
$1 billion Energy Loan Guarantees
$4.5 billion GSA
$3.5 billion Federal Bldgs Greening
$100 million FSA modernization
$50 million CSERES Research
$65 million Watershed Rehab
$30 million SD Salaries
$100 million Distance Learning
$98 million School Nutrition
$50 million aquaculture
$100 million NIST
$100 million NOAA
$100 million Law Enforcement Wireless
$50 million Detention Trustee
$25 million Marshalls Construction
$100 million FBI Construction
$300 million Federal Prisons
$300 million BYRNE Formula
$140 million BYRNE Competitive
$10 million State and Local Law Enforcement
$50 million NASA
$50 million Aeronautics
$50 million Exploration
$50 million Cross Agency Support
$200 million NSF
$100 million Science
$89 million GSA Operations
$300 million Fed Hybrid Vehicles
$50 million from DHS
$200 million TSA
$122 million for Coast Guard Cutters, modifies use
$25 million Fish and Wildlife
$55 million Historic Preservation
$20 million working capital fund
$200 million Superfund
$165 million Forest Svc Capital Improvement
$90 million State & Private Wildlife Fire Management
$75 million Smithsonian
$600 million Title I (NCLB)

There are a lot of good-sounding construction and science programs being shredded or eliminated in that list.

As I wrote on the board, I think Obama failed to anticipate the type, scope or magnitude of the Republican resistance. I don't put all the blame solely on his shoulders, but there's a difference between the best bill he could have passed and the best "bipartisan" bill he could have passed. The country is still very ready to see him take charge. Instead I think he believed all along that this would be fairly easy and that he wouldn't need to get his hands dirty. These initiatives, most of which are uncontroversially good ideas, were sacrificed on the altar of his unpreparedness and his desire to look like he's working with all sides no matter the cost. That's my read.

Yes, this bill will do plenty of good. But the way it was handled didn't inspire me. Obama looked to be content letting the thing go to Hell only to realize he had to make an appearance at the eleventh hour. I don't think he planned this all along. I think it's important to take note of how this bill went down when we're looking for clues to explain both his successes and his shortcomings in the months and even years ahead. He seems like someone who learns lessons from experience but also someone who genuinely believes his way is best even when everyone is telling him otherwise. We'll have to wait and see which tendency wins out, but that doesn't mean we should stay quiet or passive in the meantime.

Maybe, in the end, we'll all call this the useful mugging Obama needed to see what he's really up against. I just wish it hadn't taken place on such an important bill in a way that made him seem so unprepared. As even David Brooks observed in his latest column (which I won't link to), Obama had little impact on the bill's evolution as it proceeded. That's the real source of my confusion. Why did he hang back?


Ted said...

No to “stimulus” bill. Here’s why:
Since Obama’s earnest drive to convince the nation to weaken its economic strength through redistribution as well as weaken its national defense, has confirmed the very threats to our Republic’s survival that the Constitution was designed to avert, it no longer is sustainable for the United States Supreme Court and Military Joint Chiefs to refrain from exercising WHAT IS THEIR ABSOLUTE CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY TO DEFEND THE NATION FROM UNLAWFUL USURPATION. The questions of Obama’s Kenyan birth and his father’s Kenyan/British citizenship (admitted on his own website) have been conflated by his sustained unwillingnes to supply his long form birth certificate now under seal, and compounded by his internet posting of a discredited ‘after-the-fact’ short form ‘certificate’. In the absence of these issues being acknowledged and addressed, IT IS MANIFEST THAT OBAMA REMAINS INELIGIBLE TO BE PRESIDENT UNDER ARTICLE 2 OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. Being a 14th Amendment ‘citizen’ is not sufficient. A ‘President’ MUST BE an Article 2 ‘natural born citizen’ AS DEFINED BY THE FRAMERS’ INTENT.

Samnell said...

Oh look, we got our first crazy.

So what's wrong with Obama? I think he believes his own hype about bipartisanship. This is pure political poison. If some of the GOP want to hop on the bus, by all means let them. But they're in no position to be receiving, let alone demanding, concessions. Their party lost. Americans have spent two election cycles repudiating them and the Democrats, whether Obama or Reid, have done a remarkable amount of failing to lead. They should be strutting around like they control the Congress and Presidency, but instead are behaving like an embattled minority party clinging to one seat in a small state where they're afraid of being primaried out by a crazy guy who eats bugs and lights his hair on fire because Catherine the Great, who lives on in his stool, tells him so.

This is not the time for bipartisanship. Not only can we not afford it, but we have no good faith partners with which to be bipartisan. This is the time to go to the public with a direct and total attack on the entire republican ideology. It's right politically, it's right economically, and it's right morally. This the time for the new blue revolution, not more of the same GOP-lite strategy that the party has failed unceasingly with for the past thirty years.

Anonymous said...

I say no to the "stimulus" bill. It does not take a rocket scientist
to see that all we need to is stop making all the bad loans and giving bad credit to thoes who can not aford it. Yes, it would take a while for our country to bounce back, but that's the price we have to pay for letting our "SO called"
representives screw up our economy.

Anonymous said...

Obama's redistribution plan will not work over the long run. It will break this country. The citizens that have worked hard all their lives to succeed and provide for families will not continue to do so if their wealth is taken away to be given to citizens that don't want to work in this country.

angel said...

This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

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