The unanimous vote of House Republicans against the Stimulus Bill is a disappointment not because the Republicans voted no but because the House Democrats under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership made no real effort to accommodate their views. That every Republican voted “No”, as well as eleven Democrats, is significant. It signals clearly that the bill is one-sided, something I alluded to yesterday in a posting on this weblog. A bill of this size and magnitude needs to be as bipartisan as possible. It’s too important.
While I might criticize President Obama for allowing this to happen, I will withhold judgement until after a Senate vote and a House-Senate conference on the two differing bills has taken place. It may be that Obama is simply being very smart to let the House bill pass without his interference in the hope that saner heads will prevail in the Senate. Meanwhile, he avoids a confrontation with Pelosi and keeps his lines of communication open with House Republicans by inviting them for cocktails at the White House (as he did on Wednesday night). A shrewd man is this Barack Obama.
The stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post today on the House passage of the stimulus bill can be found in stories entitled House Approves $819 Billion Plan For Economic Aid and House Passes Obama Stimulus Package, respectively.
My issue is the clear lack of an attempt on the part of House Democrats to reach a reasonable accommodation with House Republicans. It is partly the consequence of the overly-ideological character of many of the stimulus components of the House Democratic package. On a scale of A-Z, with liberal Democrats being “A” and conservative Republicans being “Z”, the House Democrats produced a bill that didn’t get much farther than “C” or “D”. That’s not good enough in a bill of this magnitude and national significance. With “M” representing the middle of the alphabet, I wouldn’t expect Democrats to compromise to “M” either. They did win the election after all. I would hope, however, that they could get to “H” or “I”. That would demonstrate a real effort to produce a bipartisan bill and it would be rewarded by significantly more Republican votes than last night’s bill produced.
Would I have voted for the Republican substitute yesterday, presumably the “Z” bill? Not for a minute. First, I don’t agree with the Republican over-emphasis on tax cuts. I’d support the tax cut approach only insofar as the cuts can be demonstrated to have a stimulatory effect on the economy. In fact I think I’d be quit happy on the Democrat side of the A-Z continuum, again at perhaps “H” or “I”.
What should the bill look like? An Op-ed by “conservative economist” Martin Feldstein in the Washington Post today entitled An $800 Billion Mistakesuggests a potential answer. His major point is similar to the one I made yesterday in my above-linked posting. He advocates delaying “legislation for a month, or even two, if that’s what it takes to produce a much better bill.” He goes on to say that ‘[w]e can’t afford an $800 billion mistake.” No, we can’t. It is important to note that Martin Feldstein is not in the group of economists opposing any Keynesian economic stimulus named in a full page ad in this morning’s Washington Post. (A copy of the ad, sponsored by the Cato Institute, can be found here.) In fact, I quoted Dr. Feldstein in my posting Keynes Lives earlier in the month. He fully supports a Keynesian stimulus as do I.
There’s also a column on the stimulus today in the Washington Post by George F. Will. It’s entitled Stimulus Math for the GOP. While I don’t consider the column a must-read, I was struck by one particular paragraph. It reads:
The opposition should oppose mere opportunism, which comes in two forms. One is presenting pet projects hitherto considered unworthy of funding as suddenly meritorious because somehow stimulative. The other attaches major and non-germane policy changes to the stimulus legislation, counting on the need for speed to allow them to escape appropriate scrutiny.
Clearly we need to think a lot more about the content of the bill before we rush to final passage. We should be looking for the best stimulus bill possible, not the best stimulus we can get passed and signed into law by next week. We need to eliminate the “unmeritorious” stimulus and strive for the best and most effective stimulus we can get.
In closing let me note that I am not saying that the House bill that passed last night isn’t adequately stimulatory, merely that we can do better andmake a better effort to accommodate Republican concerns. As for the stimulatory impact of the bill, there was a good segment on last night’s Lehrer Newshour entitled Stimulus Debateand there’s an analysis by David M. Herszenshorn in today’s New York Times entitled Following the Money that would suggest the bill will stimulate the economy, in some cases very well.