My plans for the day had included writing an editorial on the stimulus bill currently stumbling its way through the U.S. Senate, but then I spoke to someone in Washington who said it COULD pass tonight. If I knew it were going to pass tonight, and had some idea how it would end up, I could write about how it and the House version should be reconciled. If I knew it WEREN'T going to pass tonight, I could write about what should happen to it in the Senate before it passes. Not knowing, and not having started writing (and having a bunch of other stuff I need to be doing today), we'll be going with a local piece that one of my colleagues has almost finished instead.
But here are some of the points that I would have wanted to make:
- The House bill is a nonstarter. I thought David Broder did a good job of explaining how it got that way in his Sunday column. Nancy Pelosi has done another partisan number on the country similar to what she did on the TARP bill a couple of months back. And the Republicans were only too happy to oblige her by voting against it unanimously. That means the $300 billion or so in tax cuts that were there to garner GOP support is wasted money (they are far too small and unfocused to do the taxpapers any appreciable good, so their ONLY theoretical value was political), without even getting into the waste the Democrats added for pet projects. A mess that would prove to be an overall waste in the end. A lot spent without giving the needed boost to the economy.
- Kudos to the moderates in both parties — Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine in particular — for working together to strip out some of the worst spending provisions. (As for our own Senate moderate — I'm thinking Lindsey Graham is supporting those efforts, based on statements I've seen, and if I were writing an editorial I would check to nail that down. But I'm not. I do know I haven't seen him mentioned in the national stories I've read.)
- But as great as it is that we're getting rid of some of the worst spending ideas, is a SMALLER stimulus bill what we're aiming for? I don't often agree with Paul Krugman, but he IS a Nobel winner in economics, and I have found persuasive his arguments that Obama's proposed stimulus, even if all of it is properly focused, isn't big enough to give the jolt the economy needs. So rather than CUTTING stuff from it, should we not be trying to FOCUS the spending that's there into more productive channels? Such as, more shovel-ready infrastructure… In other words, it's good that the moderates want to prevent wasteful spending, but isn't the problem less the size of the stimulus (which as Krugman says, may not be large enough), but what it's being spent on?
- The Buy American stuff — the latter-day Smoot-Hawley — should go. After a piece I read in the WSJ this morning, which sort of crystalized my half-formed thoughts on the matter, I'm more concerned about this than I was yesterday. If I had written the editorial, though, I'd have had to reach an agreement with one of my colleagues who is not as much of a free-trader as I am. Since I'm not writing the piece, we're not pausing in our work today to have that argument.
As you see, it would have been a fairly complicated editorial, pulling in many different directions, reflecting the complexity of the legislation and the lack of clear sense — on my part, on the Senators' part, on the House's part, on everybody's part (except for the ideologues who SAY they know what to do, but don't) — of exactly what will cure what ails the nation's economy.
Increasingly, I am pessimistic that what finally emerges and gets signed by the president will lead in any obvious way to the kind of dramatic improvement in economic activity that we need. That can further a crisis of confidence in everything from the new president to our ability to effect our own recovery in any way. And that can lead to depression, in more than one sense of the word.
(Oh, and before you comment that my thoughts on this are half-baked and incomplete — well, duh. I told you, this is the editorial I didn't write, so I haven't gone the extra mile of refining and reconciling these various points, as I made very clear above. Having done a bunch of reading and thinking about it, though, I thought I'd toss these points out for y'all to discuss. In case that's not obvious.)