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Tilting at Windmills

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January 30, 2009

HERDING CATS.... After the economic stimulus plan drew 100% opposition in the House, the question quickly became whether any Senate Republicans would be willing the rescue plan. The political world apparently forgot to consider the conservative Democrats.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska is officially "undecided" about the legislation. He appeared on Fox News this morning and was asked if knows if any Senate Republicans who are prepared to support the package.

"I don't know, I don't even know how many Democrats will vote for it as it stands today because a lot of my colleagues are not decided. They're undecided on the bill as it is right now. Fortunately, we don't have to take the vote on it right now. We have an opportunity to make some improvements."

As far as Nelson is concerned, "improvements" would include cutting research projects at the National Institutes of Health and about $13 billion for Pell grants, both of which Nelson sees as having a "marginal" stimulative impact. As Matt Corley noted, Nelson is mistaken about both the NIH and helping students pay for college.

Nevertheless, Nelson is reportedly meeting with some "centrist" senators, exploring ways to "improve" the bill. This probably can't end well.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Gee, I didn't realize that by bipartisanship, Obama meant that Ds & Rs should join together to vote against the stimulus bill. /s

Posted by: eCAHNomics on January 30, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Wow.

What was Nelson's voting record for the $100s of billions for the war in Iraq and for the 2001 budget-busting tax cuts?

Posted by: ferg on January 30, 2009 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe someone in Obama's office could set up some remedial economics courses for members of the Senate?

Posted by: Matt on January 30, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Nelson, a legend in his own mind, is a moron. If there was ever a guy who personified what is meant by the term DINO, he's it.

What a tool.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 30, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

none of this can be a surprise to Obama. He and his team will get concessions and increase the bill in a way that is actually better, which is consistent with rumblings that some Senators want a bigger bill (see Collins).

Then, he will go after a new bill with the deleted provisions (see family planning).

Once he gets the Senate on board, he is done because the House is a mere formality.

Game. Set. Match. Bitches.

orange

eric

Posted by: eric on January 30, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Organizing for America should take on the task of re-educating Moron Ben about what being a Democrat means. "Centrism for the sake of centrism" ain't it.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 30, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

There needs to be a national program dedicated to helping people like Ben Nelson understand that they're stupid and need to be quiet.

Posted by: alan on January 30, 2009 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Of all the things in the bill to pick on, why Pell Grants? The more people who go to college, the fewer people competing for jobs, and the more future candidates for starting new businesses later on.

I really don't mind the idea that Dems are carefully scrutinizing the details, even from a conservative perspective (Nelson is from Nebraska, after all). Ultimately, it just makes Republicans look even more foolish. Of course, I'm also assuming Nelson won't vote to filibuster.

Posted by: Danp on January 30, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I don't mean to threadjack, or make this all about me with TMI and all, but I just have to tell you - I had the weirdest dream last night. It was really long and vivid.

You see, I dreamed we'd actually elected a Democrat as President, and in my dream all of these people were waiving banners that said "Change!" and that was why people elected him in huge numbers. Get this - he was black. shoulda been my first clue it was just a dream, right?

Well that was the good part. Then it got nightmarish. The economy was in free-fall, everyday people were losing jobs, more bad news, people committing suicide. It got so scary, I awoke with a jolt.

It was so real, I was still confused as to whether it was or dream or if it had really happened.

Then I read Nelson's position on the stimulus bill and realize it really was just a dream after all. Everything is just like it way. whew. glad i got that straightened out.

anyway, back to your discussion. . .

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 30, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

The first of many exhibits showing that getting 60 Democrats is absolutely irrelevant to the actual business of the Senate.

Posted by: Shalimar on January 30, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Gee, I didn't realize that by bipartisanship, Obama meant that Ds & Rs should join together to vote against the stimulus bill. /s"

One of the GOP House leaders actually said that seriously two days ago. I think the quote was, "NO is the bipartisan position." I think he added that the YES voters were the ones being partisan.

Typical "Up-is-down" philosophy.

Posted by: howie on January 30, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Typical "Up-is-down" philosophy.

Boehner said the House stimulus bill was rejected in a bipartisan manner, by which, he meant that the "No" votes included a dozen Dems. These days, that's about as close to the truth as you can expect from the party of Limbaugh.

Posted by: Danp on January 30, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

This is why republicans will never lose power, the democrats have no clue to do with it when they get it. I am so tired of this type of non-sense, going on Fox, WTF ? We can't even keep the team off Fox much less get them to agree on anything.

I don't really think Pell Grants will stimulate the economy and I have a minor in Economics. But my ego isn't so large that I don't believe people more informed them me. Unfortunately, the members of Congress have egos that will not allow them to think someone might know more then them.

Term limits would curb a lot of egos.

Posted by: ScottW on January 30, 2009 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

ScottW, do you think getting more people into (and hopefully through) college would stimulate the economy?

Posted by: Matt on January 30, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

all joking aside, there are a couple of other aspects about how the stimulus is playing out that really bother me.

we had 12 defect in the House, and the first pall cast over the bill in the Senate is from a D. in the House, EVERY R voted together. granted, they have fewer reps to herd, but we have more tools - we control the committees, and we just elected an allegedly very popular President who seemed to have coattails. it is hard to see how this isn't a serious failure of leadership on the part of Congressional D's.

but it also seems a bit of a marketing and positioning failure by Team Obama. before everyone reminds me that his critics were always wrong and he was always right in the end as to campaign tactics, let me raise the two specific concerns i have. One is that many of the shots being taken at the bill, and the ones the press seems to give some credence, are complaints that much of the spending doesn't stimulate fast enough. this should be an easy winner since polls say infrastructure is very popular. Obama needed to get out in front, telling people from the start that the bill was designed to help the economy in stages -- things with immediate "safety net" impact (extended unemployment, tax rebates), things to stem the fall and start the turnaround (programmatic spending, aid to states), and longer term items to secure the recovery, provide hope for the jobless, and build toward a more economically secure future (infrastructure, education).

had it been consistently and loudly pitched that way all along, it would be innoculated against many of the present attacks.

the other concern is why Gibbs, the high-powered Econ team, and all of those now-large majority-holding Dems in Congress aren't in front of every microphone, in every hometown newspaper and web-site, issuing statements framing this as Republican obstruction of a bill to help people back in non-Beltway, real-world America. it seems this fight go underway before the Dems (Congress, Obama, the new DNC) really had their legs under them and ready to start punching.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 30, 2009 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK
I don't really think Pell Grants will stimulate the economy

They'll certainly improve unemployment; remember that there was strong GDP growth during the Great Depression from 1933 on, but for the 1937-1938 recession. What made it, nonetheless, a bad economy was unemployment. Taking people out of the work force in the short term, while preparing them to more productively participate in the work force in the long term, has a pretty direct positive effect on unemployment in the short term, as well as a positive effect on economic capacity in the long term.

Pell Grants, may not be particularly effective as "stimulus" in the strict sense of $ of GDP increase per $ of spending (I'm not saying they aren't, I haven't really spent a lot of time considering the issue), but while that kind of stimulus is an important part of turning around the recession and mitigating its effects while it persists, its not the only thing urgently needed to deal with the crisis.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

In today's NYT, Judd Gregg says something to the effect that the Senate Republicans would like to add in an amendment (ok, maybe it's just him) to allow any creditworthy homeowner to refinance at 4.5% or less. Clearly the devil is (always) in the details but on the face of it, it doesn't sound like a bad idea because:

1) it would shut up people who claim that helping homeowners in trouble punishes those who are playing by the rules.
2) wouldn't a fair number of people in trouble be ok if they could get their monthly mortgage payments down?
3) wouldn't tax revenues increase as peoples' mortgage deduction fell?
4) wouldn't people spend the additional money on either 'stuff' (stimulate the economy) or on making their credit card payments (the next domino to fall).

So I guess I'm asking you all why this is a bad thing (my reflex is to believe that if it's a Republican idea, there's probably some catch)? In my own case, it would stimulate my personal contribution to the economy IF I could refinance despite being upside down in the mortgage. Right now (knock on wood), I'm not having any trouble paying either my mortgage or other bills, but I'm also not spending much of my small disposable income.

Edify me, please.

Posted by: clarenceo on January 30, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Pell Grants, may not be particularly effective as "stimulus" in the strict sense of $ of GDP increase per $ of spending (I'm not saying they aren't, I haven't really spent a lot of time considering the issue), but while that kind of stimulus is an important part of turning around the recession and mitigating its effects while it persists, its not the only thing urgently needed to deal with the crisis.
Posted by: cmdicely

Does it need to be in today's bill right this second? It obviously has a downstream effect, which ought to offer some time to think it through more carefully. For example, instead of Pell Grants, maybe something more like a civilian version of the GI Bill (payback or pay forward) so that in turn for a free ride they serve in some capacity. This would fall in line with Obama's call for heightened responsibility and service.

This bill ought to contain the minimum needed to send a pulse into the economy and get it moving, then take some time on all of the longer term issues and think them through. Strip it down and focus on immediate stimulus, not load it up with everyone's pet social program.

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

add in an amendment (ok, maybe it's just him) to allow any creditworthy homeowner to refinance at 4.5% or less...So I guess I'm asking you all why this is a bad thing (my reflex is to believe that if it's a Republican idea, there's probably some catch)? In my own case, it would stimulate my personal contribution to the economy IF I could refinance despite being upside down in the mortgage. Right now (knock on wood), I'm not having any trouble paying either my mortgage or other bills, but I'm also not spending much of my small disposable income.

Edify me, please.
Posted by: clarenceo

What are current rates? Homeowners with good credit can refinance at them now. My wife and I are. And no matter what, I expect double digit inflation somewhere in our future due to the massive bill we are ringing up, which will conversely make the mortgage chump change.

If the goal is to keep people in homes that can't afford them currently, then the move would just be propping up home prices from the bubble that probably need to come down to reality as it is. People that bought over their heads need to get out of those houses. The government should not prop them up.

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Nelson is consistently hopeless, but he's probably the best Democratic senator we can expect in Nebraska, just as Landrieu's probably the best we can expect in Louisiana and McCaskill's the most we can hope for in Missouri.

Posted by: shortstop on January 30, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

well, RSM, perhaps your red-state federal politicians should have thought of this when they were busy shafting Dems and their ideas but your proposal requires trust that, frankly, i lack.

by "immediate stimulus," Republicans really mean "more tax cuts like the Bush ones that not only didn't prevent this mess but made it worse, and left us less money to use to fix things."

and once we disaggregate the various teporal parts of the package, the R's will be quite happy to help pass the immediate part, but someone will never quite agree to terms on the parts you would like us to slow down and spend some time on.

Sorry, Lucy, but I'd like to think the Dems aren't dumb enough to agree to your style of football this time around.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 30, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

teporal = temporal

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 30, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

by "immediate stimulus," Republicans really mean "more tax cuts like the Bush ones that not only didn't prevent this mess but made it worse, and left us less money to use to fix things."

Them is not me.

and once we disaggregate the various temporal parts of the package, the R's will be quite happy to help pass the immediate part, but someone will never quite agree to terms on the parts you would like us to slow down and spend some time on.
Posted by: zeitgeist

Looks to me like 100% of Repubs voted against it and yet it moves forward, so that argument holds no water.

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

the other concern is why Gibbs, the high-powered Econ team, and all of those now-large majority-holding Dems in Congress aren't in front of every microphone, in every hometown newspaper and web-site, issuing statements framing this as Republican obstruction of a bill to help people back in non-Beltway, real-world America.

They are.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 30, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

This bill ought to contain the minimum needed to send a pulse into the economy and get it moving, then take some time on all of the longer term issues and think them through.

Except that every credible economist is saying that this bill is already too small to have as much of a stimulative effect as we need.

And forgive me if I can't take Republicans seriously when they talk about "immediate stimulus" but shoot down a plan to refurbish the Washington Mall that would immediately create jobs for the resodding, repainting, repairs, etc.

Republicans think there's only one kind of stimulus: tax cuts. But if you're not paying taxes because you don't have a job, a tax cut doesn't do shit for you.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 30, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

We Democrats definitely need a new cat-herder. Give-em-Heck Harry clearly is not up to the task.

Ben "DINO" Nelson have any significant committees? He shouldn't for long if he doesn't stop carrying water for the ReThugs?

Posted by: Cal Gal on January 30, 2009 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Except that every credible economist is saying that this bill is already too small to have as much of a stimulative effect as we need.
Posted by: Mnemosyne

So the money is not enough, and it is being spent on things that won't come due until it is too late. Who wrote this bill anyway?

Are you telling me that resodding the grass on the mall was all Pelosi could come up with for stimulus?

And I'm not arguing for tax cuts.

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK
Does it need to be in today's bill right this second?

Uh, yeah, given that a major result of the credit crunch that is affecting unemployment directly is that almost every lender in the private educational loan business has drastically cut back or left the business entirely, and given that a major component of the misery experienced in a recession isn't from the drop in aggregate output per se but from rising unemployment, increased federal support for education, which directly addresses that, is part of the essential immediate response to mitigating the effects of the recession.

It obviously has a downstream effect, which ought to offer some time to think it through more carefully.

As stated in both my prior post and the prior paragraph, it has both an important long term effect and an important immediate term effect directly related to the magnitude of the harms of the present crisis. The short-term effect makes it of immediate importance.

For example, instead of Pell Grants, maybe something more like a civilian version of the GI Bill (payback or pay forward) so that in turn for a free ride they serve in some capacity.

There are certainly different ways to structure such assistance: you could do Pell Grants, you could expand Direct Loans, you could expand funding for AmeriCorps, you could do any combination of those (expanding Direct Loans and AmeriCorps simultaneously would probably be the easiest close analog to a "civilian equivalent of the GI Bill", as it wouldn't require any new programs to be developed), but there isn't a whole of difference in the short-term effect, and all have salutory long-term prospects. While there is legitimate room for debate over which is best, dithering and stalling while continuing to do nothing given the immediate crisis would seem to be the worst avenue.

This bill ought to contain the minimum needed to send a pulse into the economy and get it moving

It needs just as much to contain provisions which mitigate the immediate harms until the economy gets going, even stimulus that goes out immediately doesn't turn around an economy instantaneously, and even once an economy turns around to growth, the harms of a recession can last much longer than the recession itself -- the recession that began the Great Depression ended in 1933, with a return to strong aggregate growth. But we still call it the "Great Depression" for a reason.

then take some time on all of the longer term issues and think them through.

Increased support for education isn't a longer-term issue, its an immediately needed tool for addressing the immediate harms of the recession. Sure, there are some long-term benefits as well, and there is certainly some detailed thought and consideration that needs to go into long-term policy on higher education. But the immediate need and problem need to be addressed immediately while that long-term planning is going on.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK
And I'm not arguing for tax cuts.

What, very specifically, are you arguing for? Because it seems to me that you have neither concrete criticism nor concrete alternatives, just a lot of "maybe this could wait", "maybe this could be done differently", and vague generalities.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

To repeat myself a little from other threads here, some things I've advocated for are:
1. Tax breaks on consumer spending, such as energy improvements to homes, to inject money into the economy. Tax cuts will most likely result in people paying down debt, which is nice but is not stimulus.
2. Take advantage of need to repair and replace defense equipment from Iraq, where money can be spent almost immediately today on American-made gear. Use this as a fill until infrastructure projects ramp up
3. Cut out a whole litany of social programs masquerading as stimulus

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Typical Republican stuff:

1. Cut taxes
2. More weapons
3. Screw the little guy

That's the way to fix the economy, no doubt about it.

Posted by: Tree on January 30, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Nelson is a DINO and is known for making anything he touches...worse. Little difference between him and republicans, unwilling to take any risk.

Posted by: bjobotts on January 30, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

ScottW***"...I don't really think Pell Grants will stimulate the economy and I have a minor in Economics...."

Parents have more money to spend on other things rather than kid's education...is just a suggestion.
"God, now that Dave got a pell grant we can afford to buy him that car with the money we would have come up with."

Nelson looks for ways to disagree so he can claim his 'centrist' position.

Posted by: bjobotts on January 30, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK
Tax breaks on consumer spending, such as energy improvements to homes, to inject money into the economy.

The bill increases funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program and for the Energy Star rebate program; this is more immediate (as it doesn't require developing a new program and bureaucracy), but is directed at largely the same kind of spending in a way which is more immediately effective and (in the case of the Weatherization Assistance Program particularly) less tilted to providing the most assistance to the most well-off than your suggestion would seem to be.

Take advantage of need to repair and replace defense equipment from Iraq, where money can be spent almost immediately today on American-made gear.

Money can't be "spent almost immediately" for many of these purposes -- well, it can be spent, it just won't immediately buy anything or get much work done -- the way it could be on many alternative projects. Defense contractors are no different than any other suppliers in rightsizing to meet anticipated orders, and having considerably more regulatory loops to jump through, certainly aren't any quicker at responding to changes in need efficiently.

OTOH, renovation and modernization of CONUS facilities that has been deferred during the Iraq adventure, and on which money can be spent immediately that does have similar benefits to civilian infrastructure spending (though not as efficient as stimulus) does get several billion in the bill.

Cut out a whole litany of social programs masquerading as stimulus

What social programs? Again with the vague generalities. I suspect that, were you able to be specific about what you meant here, it would be clear that this is the worst idea; most of the things in the package that could be called 'social programs' are either directly stimulative or directly dealing with the impact of the recession on those hurt worst buy it (or both!), and eliminating them would make both the recession itself and its effects on the worst hit worse than they would be with the package in its current firm.

But, of course, no real response is possible to you here until you point to specific programs rather than making reference to some vague "litany".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2009 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

less tilted to providing the most assistance to the most well-off than your suggestion would seem to be.

The point is to use tax breaks to stimulate spending rather than tax cuts, whether it is energy smart or other.

Defense contractors are no different than any other suppliers in rightsizing to meet anticipated orders, and having considerably more regulatory loops to jump through, certainly aren't any quicker at responding to changes in need efficiently.

There are Defense Plant assembly lines due to close that can be reopened, and much of the repair work is done at military depots. All can surge to overtime immediately while ramping up manning.

OTOH, renovation and modernization of CONUS facilities ...does get several billion in the bill.

Out of how many billions? This is chump change compared to the total.

What social programs? Again with the vague generalities.

I'm not going to repeat myself from the previous threads. One third of a billion for STD prevention was one example.

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK
The point is to use tax breaks to stimulate spending rather than tax cuts, whether it is energy smart or other.

Tax breaks are tax cuts, and, anyhow, please explain how tax breaks through a new program are either more effective or more immediate in stiumating consumer spending than government-funded consumer spending rebates outside of the tax system through existing rebate programs. Because, if they aren't, you are arguing simply for something less effective than what is already in the bill.

Out of how many billions? This is chump change compared to the total.

Everything in the bill is chump change compared to the total, and military spending of any kind is about the least stimulative spending you can find.

One third of a billion for STD prevention was one example.

STD prevention is labor intensive, and therefore efficient at producing jobs; it also goes directly to fighting a problem that is both an economic drag and a public health problem (every instance of the latter being an instance of the former.)

As such, it is not inappropriate in an economic stimulus package.

When pushed hard, you can actually name specific things you oppose or support, which is an improvement, but you still haven't presented much of an argument on any of them.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2009 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Herding cats is simple; you toss a few grenades, and then find a lot of violins that need restringing.

In this case, the "grenades" are the millions of Obama fanatics with access to telephones and computers---and the "violins" become the offices of certain Senators....

Posted by: Steve W. on January 30, 2009 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

This guy summarizes it nicely for me...

Analysis: Stimulus bill that's not all stimulating

"I have communicated to the administration that there are parts of this package that don't meet the test that they themselves established of temporary, timely and targeted," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. He wants Obama to weigh in to knock out the clunkers during House-Senate negotiations.
Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

I also agree with Alice Rivkin, formerly of the Clinton Administration...

Article


In testimony before the House Budget Committee yesterday, Alice M. Rivlin, who was President Bill Clinton's budget director, suggested splitting the plan, implementing its immediate stimulus components now and taking more time to plan the longer-term transformative spending to make sure it is done right..."Such a long-term investment program should not be put together hastily and lumped in with the anti-recession package. The elements of the investment program must be carefully planned and will not create many jobs right away," said Rivlin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. The risk, she said, is that "money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted."

Posted by: red state mike on January 30, 2009 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think there are a lot of people, politicians included, who think business growth can only come from law which allows corporations to exist, invest, hire employees, make products/services and market them. Somewhere they completely forget somebody has to buy those products/services.

Government has given money to banks and they're hanging onto a lot of it. So, how can businesses borrow?

Are we to directly loan money from the Fed to businesses? I haven't heard anyone suggest that except in the case of the extreme crisis in the car industry.

The stimulus is aimed more at a broad range of things. That way they can buy inventory from businesses. That will give the businesses some cash...the cash banks won't loan them.

This is all, to some extent, a stop-gap measure to keep everything alive (like an oxygen mask on a stroke victim) until we can get the mortgage problem fixed and the banks will begin operating properly again. They will, won't they?

Somebody has to bite the bullet and decide to fix the mortgages or just admit government isn't up to it. Of course, people are scared to death of what will happen. But, in time their fear of not getting re-elected should shift them into gear. I hope by then it won't be too late. Somebody please kick some asses in Congress to make things start.

Posted by: MarkH on January 30, 2009 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

Imagine the kudos Obama would receive from (nearly) all quarters -- and the point he would drive home early -- if he were to veto the first stimulus bill that landed on his desk, and demand a more focused, less scattershot rewrite.

It would show the congressional committee barons who's in charge, and give GOP "moderates" no easy excuses for obstruction.

Posted by: allbetsareoff on January 31, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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