Republicans are right to express alarm at this stimulus bill.  However, there’s more at risk to the country than passing a hasty and less than ideal bill, it also risks President Obama’s grand “post-partisan” experiment.  As for the stimulus bill itself, here is an excerpt from one of my first postings about a stimulus bill three weeks ago:

Legislators need to do their job and take a good hard look at the administration’s proposals.  Our job as informed citizens is to keep the pressure on all of our political leadership to make certain that the stimulus package is as focused as possible on actually stimulating growth, now and well into the future. 

While part of the opposition is politics–clearly some Republicans will oppose any stimulus that’s not predominantly comprised of tax cuts–politics does not explain all of the opposition.  There are good reasons for thoughtful and conscientious Americans, who are otherwise inclined to be supportive of President Obama, to express concern.  It is because the country is rushing into this and risking making a very grave error.  President Obama needs to slow the train down a bit; It is better to get it right than to get it fast.  This is too much money to do it wrong.

I am not saying we shouldn’t move expeditiously, but this is too fast, too one-sided, too partisan and, frankly, too laden with ideologically-inspired spending.  And Republicans aren’t the only skeptics according to a Washington Post story today entitled Democrats Among Stimulus Skeptics.  Here’s an excerpt: 

In testimony before the House Budget Committee yesterday, Alice M. Rivlin, who was President Bill Clinton’s budget director, suggested splitting the plan, implementing its immediate stimulus components now and taking more time to plan the longer-term transformative spending to make sure it is done right.

“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,” said Rivlin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. The risk, she said, is that “money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted.”

For some House Democrats, the problem is less a matter of balancing the short and long term than a shortage of focus and will on the part of the administration. Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs.

There is a lot of fine coverage on the stimulus today, coverage that I regard as balanced and fair.  Even from that bastion of liberal journalism, The New York Times, we are getting stories that communicate broad concern.  In addition to the story in the Washington Post already noted above, there are two must-read New York Times stories, both under the broad headline “Stimulus Plan Offers Road to Retooling Social Policy”: Relief for Jobless and States on Health Care and New Flood of Aid at All Levels of Education.  This bill needs to be about stimulus and not include efforts at aimed radical social restructuring.  This is a prime example of the gross danger, that many of us have been enunciating for many weeks, that the liberal majority in the U.S. House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi poses to the Obama presidency.  Left uncontrolled it will threaten the opportunity that President Obama has to establish a new “post-partisan” way of governing in this country.  Even John McCain, who’s vowed to support President Obama wherever possible in bailing on this stimulus bill.  Rahm Emanuel, this is part of why I thought Obama hired you–to get tough with Pelosi and her ideological ilk.  Here’s an excerpt from the second New York Times story linked above:  

The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.

The proposed emergency expenditures on nearly every realm of education, including school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students, would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government.

And two excerpts from the first Times story above:

Excerpt 1:  With little notice and no public hearings, House Democrats would create a temporary new entitlement allowing workers getting unemployment checks to qualify for Medicaid, the health program for low-income people. Spouses and children could also receive benefits, no matter how much money the family had.  In addition, the stimulus package would offer a hefty subsidy to help laid-off workers retain the same health plans they had from their former employers.

 Excerpt 2:  As Congress rushes to inject cash into a listless economy, it is setting aside many of the restraints that have checked new domestic spending for more than a decade. The White House said the changes contemplated by Congress would provide coverage for nearly 8.5 million newly uninsured people who had lost their jobs and would protect Medicaid for many more whose eligibility would otherwise be at risk.

Of the $127 billion cost, the Congressional Budget Office said, $87 billion would be used to increase the federal share of Medicaid, $29 billion would subsidize private insurance and $11 billion would finance Medicaid for unemployed workers who could not otherwise qualify.

Most of the aid is billed as temporary. But Republicans fear that states would get hooked on it, just as they might grow accustomed to a big increase in federal aid to education, also included in the bill.  

There are several other stories worth reading.  Two of these concern President Obama’s significant and most welcome outreach to Republicans:  Obama, Visiting G.O.P. Lawmakers, Is Open to Some Compromise on Stimulus (Times) and Republicans Urged to Back Relief Package: Obama Meets With Lawmakers for Hours (Post).  Another is an analysis by David Leonhardt in the Times business section.  It’s entitled A Stimulus With Merit, And Misses.  Leonhardt seems less concerned with the massive federal intrusion into education (he seems to see some merit) and other areas than he is with the lack of infrastructure building in the bill.

I don’t have enough information to make a complete assessment myself.  I would like to see additional efforts to remove the bill’s “social engineering” components (such as the $335 million Medicaid provision Obama has agreed to drop), especially those components that either aren’t sustainable or verifiable in their stimulatory effect.  The most important thing that I’d like to see for now is to slow this train down for two weeks to leave more time for thoughtful commentary and beneficial amendment.  I’d like pragmatic non-ideologues like Steny Hoyer and John McCain to sit down with the President and his people and work something out that’s more broadly acceptable to everyone, Democrats and Republicans, and that meets certain essential criteria:  that it actually stimulates growth; that it can be spent rapidly; that the spending can be verified; that the spending doesn’t create new and ongoing federal programs; and that a significant part of it can fuel growth well into the future as well as now.  That’s the stimulus this country needs.  If we rush through with this bill and if most Republicans fail to support it, President Obama’s great post-partisan experiment will likely be dead before it has begun.  This would be even more tragic than passage of this stimulus bill.