Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 6, 2009

HOLDING THE RECOVERY PLAN HOSTAGE.... As you've probably noticed, the Senate did not pass the economic stimulus package last night, as at least some Democratic leaders had hoped. There's a group of nearly 20 "centrist" senators who've been working diligently to make the recovery plan significantly smaller -- the opposite of what's needed -- and until they're satisfied, the bill isn't going anywhere.

A bipartisan group of senators worked furiously in backroom negotiations on Thursday to cut the cost of the more than $920 billion economic stimulus plan. Senate Democratic leaders said they would await the outcome of those talks before calling for a final vote on the measure, perhaps on Friday.

Members of the bipartisan group, led by Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to trim provisions that would not quickly create jobs or encourage spending by consumers and businesses. They spent much of the day scrutinizing the 736-page bill and wrangling over what to cut.

By early evening, aides said the group had drafted a list of nearly $90 billion in cuts, including $40 billion in aid for states, more than $14 billion for various education programs, $4.1 billion to make federal buildings energy efficient and $1.5 billion for broadband Internet service in rural areas. But they remained short of a deal, and talks were expected to resume Friday morning.

Let's not lose sight of the way in which the Senate bill has grown this week. When the House passed its version, it cost about $820 billion. The Senate version, before the center-right lawmakers cut it down, currently stands at about $920 billion. The Nelson/Collins group intends to cut about $100 billion, bringing it back down to the size of the House version.

But it's how they're scaling back that matters. The Senate bill grew, not by additional stimulus spending -- the chamber narrowly defeated a measure to expand infrastructure investment -- but by adding $94 billion in tax cuts. The Nelson/Collins group, to make the package "palatable," isn't eyeing the tax breaks that aren't stimulative, they're eyeing about $100 billion in spending that is stimulative.

In other words, to get this thing passed, there will be less funding for cash-strapped states, schools, and energy, which needs to go to make room for tax cuts that no one seriously believes will spur growth.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "I have explained to people within that group, they cannot hold the president of the United States hostage."

Actually, they can. If the "centrists" don't get the spending cuts they want, they're prepared to scrap the stimulus package altogether. The Nelson/Collins group isn't just holding the president hostage, it's holding the economy hostage.

Negotiations will begin again this morning. Reid announced late yesterday that he intends to end debate and have a vote this afternoon, but if there's no progress, he'll schedule a vote for Sunday.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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And you can be sure that us voters will take time out of our soup lines to vote.

Posted by: Bobsled on February 6, 2009 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

There seems to be a disconnect. Many governors and mayors are for the bill, but it seems like their opinions don't count.

Posted by: Micheline on February 6, 2009 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK

A list of the 20 centrists would be really nice, so those of us who live in their states could let them know we'll hold THEM accountable for the failing economy.

Posted by: Jesse on February 6, 2009 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

He should schedule a vote every three hours or so around the clock until they pass it. Maybe with this the senators would begin to understand the urgency involved. Get a publicity campaign going, complete with television ads, stressing the need, and naming those (or at least the party affiliation) who are holding it up any why they are doing so. MAKE the Repubs own the obstruction in the eyes of the American people.

And let the "centrists" know that the conference committee is going to undo much of what they've done, as the Repubs did when they were in the majority.

Posted by: CN on February 6, 2009 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Suggestion, ask the repubs what happened to the pallets of cash they took out of the treasury, supposedly for Iraq, tell them we want it back and credited to the stimulus, 12 billion would pay a lot of wages.

Posted by: JS on February 6, 2009 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Strip out the $94B in additional tax breaks and let's get this thing passed. The IOUs California is passing out isn't helping the situation out here one bit.

Posted by: KJ on February 6, 2009 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Do these idiots have the slightest idea what they're doing?

Basic common sense -- which admittedly is in short supply among Democrats and is non-existent among Republicans -- says that tax cuts won't work. Consumers have lost their jobs or are anticipating losing their jobs, so they aren't going to buy anything but bare necessities. Businesses can't buy new inventory because no one is buying the old inventory. Manufacturers aren't buying raw materials because retailers aren't buying their products. So giving consumers or businesses, or both, tax cuts won't create new jobs. The only place that has extra money to spend is the federal government.

If Congress pays to have the Capital Mall renovated, for example, then the Park Service will buy sod, and grass seed, and fertilizer, and gravel, and barriers to keep people off the grass. The Park Service will (probably) contract with a private firm or two to do the work. All of that would help get the economy moving again.

Robert Reich explains it in a way that someone with an 8th grade education can understand:


Maybe the "moderates" in the Senate can find some 8th graders to explain it to them.

Posted by: SteveT on February 6, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

I wish someone (like Moveon) would produce a list of exactly how much will be cut in local aid for the individual states represented by this "bipartisan" group.

Let's make Susan Collins eat her words.

Posted by: esaud on February 6, 2009 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Let's face it, Republicans still run the country.

Posted by: steve duncan on February 6, 2009 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

Some irony here. While the senators are devising means of cutting benefits to the states, many states are grimly concluding that their only means of getting out of their deep budget deficits is to raise taxes and cut spending.

We are going to discover exactly what it means to live with negative growth for many years. Perhaps we can discover some level or system of economic activity that is truly sustainable in the process. We just about bubbled the world to death. Can there be life after living beyond our means?

Posted by: lou on February 6, 2009 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

I do believe a large part of the problem is that the Senate overrepresents rural areas at the expense of urban areas. The economy needs innovation and technology to drive it, regardless of this stimulus package. But rural areas are far less affected in the short term by these innovations, so they would rather stimulate the economy through housing credits and roads rather than education, broadband and energy or medical technology.

This kind of thinking hurts the 2/3 population that live in urban areas (cities of 50K+) first, but in the long term it will be devastating.

Posted by: Danp on February 6, 2009 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

uh, wasn't harry bragging on how he had the votes yesterday... i knew then he was full of shit.

Posted by: linda on February 6, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

wasn't harry bragging on how he had the votes yesterday

I was thinking that, too. But if you get Nelson, Collins an a couple others to commit, which would you do? Announce it and make it more difficult for them to change their minds? Or give Republicans an easier opportunity to pressure them, by staying quiet? It doesn't make Reid look good, but I suspect it's more effective in the long run.

Posted by: Danp on February 6, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

What does it say when 36 of 41 Republican Senators sign on to an alternative "stimulus" package consisting entirely of tax cuts offered by its most reactionary member that has no hope of stimulating an economy in free fall? It says that Republicans are not interested in solving the the nation's problems. They're concerned with preserving their legacy.

Reasonable people can disagree whether the stimulus package offered by the Obama administration is adequate to the task of jump starting the economy. With $800 billion in spending there is bound to be lots of waste, pork and abuse. Let's stimulate that. But there can be no disagreement, except by doctrinaire true believers, that tax cuts at a time when there are no profits to tax (because no one is buying!) is hopeless as a vehicle for arresting an economy sliding into depression.

So why did Republicans do it, and why do they pretend it will work. Because the alternative is to admit that Ronald Reagan was wrong, or that government is sometimes the solution and not always the problem, or that the market is not always self-correcting, or that the entire edifice of laissez faire economics upon which the modern Republican Party is built is a rickety sham. And that Republicans will never, ever do -- no matter how many Americans lose their job or are made to suffer so that Republicans can prove their point.

When Republicans look around at the suffering around them they don't see economic depression and hardship that has to be addressed, they see the need for damage control lest people connect the dots and repudiate free market capitalism and conservative politics.

Republicans are not afraid Obama's package will fail. They are afraid it will work. And like the "insurrectionists" that Alabama Senator Sessions say they are, Republicans must do everything in their power to make sure the stimulus fails -- then blame it on Democrats if it does.

Sessions was wrong about one thing, however. Republicans aren't the new Taliban. They're the new Sunnis -- a minority that once knew the taste of power and refuses to take part in any new arrangement that doesn't leave them in charge.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 6, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

If you truly loved someone, you'd provide the necessary spending to keep your loved one safe and secure.

These Republican leaders do not love their country!

If you truly care for someone, you'd surrender yourself to beneficial compromise for all concerned.

These Republican leaders do not care for their nation!

If you truly believe you are a leader, you'd readily admit mistakes of great proportion and change course to correct years of imbalance.

Alas, these Republican leaders do not believe in leading, just obstructing, a national recovery plan!

Sucks to be a Republican in the 2010 election cycle! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 6, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

The cuts being considered by these 'moderates' appear to be directed mostly at money supposed to flow to the states. There should be a fairly straightforward remedy for that: Why doesn't the White House mobilize the governors to get the 'moderates' up to speed. Simple maths suggests there should be a ratio of close to two-to-one for that business.

Posted by: SRW1 on February 6, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

The issue is simple - the Republicans continue to vote as one block, while the Democrats look like multiple parties. As long as that is the case, the Republican will be able to play good cop/bad cop with the Congress and the President.

Posted by: inthewoods on February 6, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

The repubs need to stop and think, if they don't do something to stimulate the economy they won't have to worry about their precious tax breaks because who the hell is going to have any income or anything else to tax. The wealthy already don't pay hardly any taxes compared to the middle class. And if they totally wipe out the middle class who will they have to wait on them. Unless slavery if their ultimate plan.

Posted by: redrover on February 6, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

I'm so sick of Harry Reid pretending to know what he's talking about. You know what, Harry? The Repugs wouldn't be doing any of this crap if only ONCE, just ONCE, you had forced them to filibuster instead of folding like a cheap suit. The public is still with the Dems on this bill. Push it through as Obama wants it! Vote on partisan lines, and tell these wheezing, whinging idiots that they can go ahead and start filibustering, that the American people will be watching as they do it, and BREAK THEM. Stop being a loser! Stop being a wuss! STAND UP FOR YOUR OWN BELIEFS! Ugh.

Posted by: onceler on February 6, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK



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