The Paul Krugman column I picked for tomorrow's op-ed page has some things seriously wrong with it, as do most Krugman columns: He trashes Obama for seeking bipartisan support of the stimulus (Krugman HATES bipartisanship), and he demagogues like crazy:
American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition,
undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who
flip their houses?
In its anti-UnParty sentiment, the column could be said to have precisely the opposite message of my Sunday column. But I chose it anyway, partly because one of the main missions of the op-ed page is to give you opinions other than mine, but also because he raises, in a backhanded way, a good point: Just because someone is a "centrist" doesn't mean he's right (or she's right, in the cases of Susan Collins and Olympia Snow).
In fact, one thing I ran out of room to say in my Sunday column, but had wanted to say, was that in the case of this bill, there are centrists and there are centrists. You'll recall that I ended the column thusly:
if the president has a bill that Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Ben
Nelson of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine all voted for, the nation
would have a chance of moving forward together. And together is the
only way we can recover.
When she was proofing it Friday, Cindi came into my office to object that John McCain was not a member of the gang of "centrists" negotiating over this legislation. I said yeah, that's right. Neither is Graham. I didn't intend to say they were involed in the Nelson-Collins group. I meant to say that it would have to have even broader support than what it would take to get the Nelsons and Collinses on board.
In fact, as I would have explained if I'd had a couple more inches to work with, that particular group was guided by a principle that I thought was wrong-headed: They simply wanted to cut $100 billion out of the bill, period (or that's the message I got, anyway). Since I was worried that Krugman was right when he said in a previous column that Obama's stimulus proposal wouldn't be enough, I doubted that making it LESS, on principle, was the right thing to do.
I mean, take your pick: Spend $800 billion that you don't have or $900 billion that you don't have. How is the former necessarily better than the latter? Once you've decided that massive deficit spending is what you've gotta do, in for a dime, in for a trillion…
And yet, this press release from Susan Collins seems to indicate that for her at least, reducing the amount was the point:
After days of leading bipartisan negotiations, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Ben Nelson (D-NE) tonight announced an agreement on an amendment to the Economic Recovery Act currently before the Senate. The Nelson-Collins amendment would reduce the total cost of the package to $780 billion-$110 billion less than the bill that the Senate is currently considering.
"This deal represents a victory for the American people," said Senator Collins… "We've trimmed the fat, fried the bacon, and milked the sacred cows…"
The idea that when it comes to stimulating the economy, less is more, seems unpersuasive to me. So does the DeMint position that all you need is tax cuts. So does the position that all massive spending is good.
So is the idea that just because someone is labeled a "centrist" doesn't mean they're right. (But it sure doesn't mean they're automatically wrong just because they're centrists, as Krugman believes.)
Nobody's got the monopoly on wisdom in this discussion, from what I've seen. There are certain things I think the stimulus ought to do: It should spend money as quickly as possible and spend it on things we'll have something to show for down the line — such as physical infrastructure that we needed to spend on anyway. I think the tax cuts are going to be pretty useless because they're spread too thin for anyone to feel them. But rather than cut them out, I'd direct that money to shovel-ready, needed infrastructure. I think any cost ceiling anybody tries to place on the plan is fairly arbitrary (such as Obama's own reluctance to go over the magic trillion mark).
But there's only one thing that I think is fairly non-negotiable: This thing needs to transcend the partisan spin cyle. To turn around our economy, we've got to be pulling together. This needs to be something that the overwhelming majority of Congress can go back home and sell, something that leaves the talking heads on 24/7 TV "news" little to natter about. And I believe that goal is worth spending a little more time to achieve.