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Argument: Bipartisanship undermines effectiveness of 2009 US stimulus

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Eugene Robinson. "Roll over the Republicans". Real Clear Politics. February 10, 2009 - One of the most effective items in the House bill was $79 billion to be transferred to state governments, which are hurting; in California, our most populous state, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is ordering furloughs of state workers. Any dollar given to the states will fly out the door by sundown. That $79 billion would have instant impact.

But in the Senate, the ad hoc "gang" of moderate Republicans (all three of them) and conservative Democrats cut those state funds to $39 billion. It's wrong to see this as the normal give-and-take of legislative sausage-making, the usual trek down a well-worn path toward the golden compromise that everyone can live with. This is not, repeat not, a time for compromise. Meeting in the middle, which the Senate sees as its role in our democracy, renders the whole exercise potentially useless. If we don't get enough money into the economy, and if we don't do it soon, we risk wasting a king's ransom on a stimulus that's too puny to stimulate.

This is not an issue where the answer is to be found in the "middle." This isn't a matter of left, right and center, it's a matter of yes or no: Does the federal government try to get the economy moving again, or not? This will sound ridiculous, but the fact is that the details of Obama's plan don't matter that much. If anything, many economists believe, the government needs to spend even more than Obama proposes.

Republicans are using this debate as a branding opportunity, positioning themselves as careful stewards of the public purse. This is absurd, given their record when they were in charge. It's also cynical. They know that some kind of stimulus will get passed anyway. If it works, they'll claim their principled intransigence made the plan better; if it doesn't, they'll say "I told you so."

Obama and the Democrats have public opinion on their side and the wolf at the door. Republicans need to get out of the way -- or get run over.

Robert Kuttner. "Time to Think Big". American Prospect. February 10, 2009 - The fierce partisan battle over the size and composition of the economic-recovery bill is a harbinger of battles to come. "Bipartisanship" evidently means giving veto power to a tiny group of center-right Republicans who are eager to cut, in this case, $40 billion of desperately needed aid to states -- and a lot more -- in order to finance more business tax cuts that will have a far less stimulative effect. The full list of cuts extracted by Sen. Collins and company is an absolute disgrace.

The original Obama bill signaled that this was not just a one-shot effort. Policies like the development of a green-energy economy, a smart grid for the electricity-distribution system, and ongoing investment in children and families are all part of the road to a more efficient and just economy, not simply a temporary injection of emergency funds.

This is the right strategy. It would be no victory at all to get the economy off the path to Great Depression II only to return it to the economy of the recent past, the economy that crashed and burned in 2007.

John Nichols. "More Bipartisanship, Less Stimulus". The Nation. February 7, 2009 - In order to get the votes of two Republican (Maine's Susan Collins and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter) and perhaps another (Mainer Olympia Snowe) that were needed to undermine the threat of a GOP filibuster, Reid surrendered $86 billion in proposed stimulus spending. In doing so, the Democrats agreed to cut not just fat but bone, and to warp the focus and intent of the legislation.

The Senate plan is dramatically more weighted than the House bill toward tax cuts (which account for more than 40 percent of the overall cost of the package). This is despite the fact that there is a growing consensus -- among even conservative economists and policy makers -- that tax cuts will do little or nothing to stimulate job creation in a country that lost almost 600,000 positions in January alone. As French President Nicolas Sarkozy, no liberal, said Friday of countries that opt for tax cuts rather than stimulus: The approach "will bring them nothing" in the way of economic regeneration.

[...] These are the fruits of bipartisan fantasies and the compromises that follow upon them. President Obama, who should have been on television addressing the nation and doing everything in his power to rally support for a sufficient stimulus plan, will be lucky if he gets anything by the President's Day deadline he set. (Even after the Senate measure passes, a difficult process of reconciling the very different House and Senate bills must take place. Then there will be more votes before any legislation gets to the president's desk.)

The White House still wants to advance this measure, as do Senate Democratic leaders. And, considering the urgency of the moment, they are probably right to try to do something. But if the final "stimulus package" proves to be insufficient to jump start the economy -- and if what is left of public confidence in the prospect of turnaround collapses as a result -- this Friday night compromise will be remembered with pained regret.

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