In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama insisted that “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.” To this end, the president pledged to make the passage of an economic stimulus package as bipartisan as possible. Well, the House vote on his stimulus bill was bipartisan — against Obama. Not a single Republican voted for the bill; they were joined by 11 Democrats in opposition. So what happened? Why did Obama’s stimulus plan not only fail to attract any Republicans but also drive away 11 members of his own party?
Shortly after the New Year but still more than a week before Obama was sworn in, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee held a hearing where economists from across the political spectrum voiced their support for an economic stimulus package. Among the Democrats’ invited guests was Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor and chairman of Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers. Feldstein told the Democrats in attendance: “We’re going to need a fiscal stimulus plan that designs tax cuts and spending changes in the most effective way. It pains me to say that, because I’m a fiscal conservative who hates deficit spending, but it is important to have that fiscal stimulus at this time.”
This testimony came before Feldstein saw the details of the Democrat plan. Now that Feldstein, a pro-stimulus conservative, has had a chance to read the actual bill, he is singing a different tune. He writes in the Washington Post today:
[T]he fiscal package now before Congress needs to be thoroughly revised. In its current form, it does too little to raise national spending and employment. … We cannot afford an $800 billion mistake.
Feldstein is right. The bill the House passed last night is a $800 billion mistake, even by the Obama administration’s own criteria. National Economic Council director Larry Summers said last summer that in order to be effective, any stimulus bill must be “timely… targeted … and credibly temporary.” The trillion-dollar debt plan that passed last night was none of those things.
The establishment media have made much of Obama’s “charm offensive” to woo conservatives to support the plan. Much has been made of the family planning funding and National Mall resodding that Obama urged House Democrats to abandon. But, as we’ve been pointing out since the beginning, these items are only symbols. The real problem with this bill was that it completely abandoned its own intellectual “timely… targeted … and credibly temporary” criteria. Obama let the far-left leadership in the House craft a bill larger than the combined total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that doubled the size of the Department of Education in one fell swoop, and, according to the New York Times, rewrote “the social contract in ways [liberals] have long yearned to do.” Commenting on the health care part of the bill, liberal Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) told the Times, “We accomplished more today than in the last eight years.”
Again, conservatives were not alone questioning the judgment of passing major education and health care legislation under the guise of emergency spending. President Bill Clinton’s budget director, Alice Rivlin, said in congressional testimony:
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. [The risk is that] money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted.
In “Godfather II,” Frank Pentangeli tells Fredo: “Hey, what’s with the food? Some kid in a white jacket brings me a Ritz cracker with some chopped liver. ‘Canapes,’ he says. I say, ‘Can a peas, my [butt], that’s a Ritz cracker with chopped liver.'” To paraphrase Franky Five-Angels, slapping together all of the far left’s spending priorities into one massive deficit skyrocketing bill and then calling it “economic stimulus” does not make it economic stimulus. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Brookings Institution have all recognized that this is exactly what Obama is trying to do. For the sake of the economy, we sincerely hope he changes course.
- House Republicans defeated a bill Wednesday that would have delayed the transition to digital TV by four months.
- The left is considering adding “Buy American” anti-trade provisions to the trillion-dollar debt plan.
- Thanks to strong growth in public sector unions, union membership in the United States rose last year by the largest amount in a quarter-century.
- Japan said Wednesday that it would deploy its Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect Japanese commercial ships off the coast of Somalia.
- According to the New York Times, Obama faces a difficult choice: Is he willing to abandon a campaign promise or risk a rupture with the military? Or can he finesse the difference?