Tue 3 Feb 2009
The Senate has begun it’s process of fixing the deeply flawed stimulus bill passed last week by the House of Representatives. Consensus seems to be growing that the House bill is a dog and must be recast to have both a stronger shot at stimulating the economy and garnering significant bipartisan support.
In a meeting with a number of Democratic lawmakers yesterday, President Obama apparently “took a blunt tone with the lawmakers, urging them to drop whatever needs to be cut from the bill to gain bipartian support and to pass Congress soon”, so reports the Washington Post in a story today entitled Obama is Upbeat On Stimulus Plan.
ABC News’ The Note also reports this morning that it will be centrists in the Senate who will ultimately decide the content and fate of the stimulus bill. Here’s an excerpt:
Team Obama lost the early battle to define the bill — which has become a pork-stuffed monstrosity, instead of economic salvation wrapped in legislation.
That’s where Senate centrists come in. The loose coalition of lawmakers that are scrubbing the measure with an eye on offering joint amendments — being led by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — are quickly becoming the group to watch.
They have the votes to exert their will, and that means sorting out spin from reality (or at least their take on it) on a measure that’s easy to hate for its scope, and maybe easier to mock for its specifics.
I am always happy when I see centrists exerting their potentially considerable influence. I know that when they do, ideology and partisan fervor will take a back seat to pragmatic policy-making. This is what has needed to happen since Pelosi and her crew got the first cut at the bill.
The slower Senate process is also allowing for greater scrutiny and thought to be given to particular provisions of the House bill. As I argued last week, this is too important a bill to rush. While we should slow this process down even further if we’re to avoid all of the boondoggles, fortunately this additional scrutiny and thought is showing us at least some of the flaws. One such flaw, in my opinion, concerns the House bill’s mandate that billions of dollars be spent to expand broadband internet service to rural and otherwise under-served America. While important, we need to make certain that any such program is done right. This is discussed in an excellent article in the New York Times today entitled Internet Money In Fiscal Plan: Wise or Waste? Here’s an excerpt:
But experts warn that the rural broadband effort could just as easily become a $9 billion cyberbridge to nowhere, representing the worst kind of mistakes that lawmakers could make in rushing to approve one of the largest spending bills in history without considering unintended results.
“The first rule of technology investment is you spend time understanding the end user, what they need and the conditions under which they will use the technology,” said Craig Settles, an industry analyst and consultant who has studied broadband applications in rural and urban areas. “If you don’t do this well, you end up throwing millions or, in this case, potentially billions down a rat hole. You will spend money for things that people don’t need or can’t use.”
Dozens of programs included in the stimulus measure could entail a similarly complicated cost-benefit analysis. But with Congress and the White House intent on adopting the economic recovery package by the end of next week, taxpayers are unlikely to find out whether these programs are great investments or a total waste — or something in between — until long after the money is out the door.
Let me close by linking to another advocate of slowing this stimulus train down a bit, again to make sure we get the most bang for the extraordinarily large bucks. He is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post in his column today entitled $100 Billion and No Change Back. He points out that the funds heading to the Department of Education are going with no “reform” strings attached and he argues that we are losing an incredible opportunity to make a difference. Slowing the train down can give us the time to do it right. I agree with him completely.
So, let’s hope that the slower train that is the United States Senate slows down even further and allows more input that makes this bill as good as we can get it before it goes to the President’s desk for signature. Getting a bill in the middle of February is less important that getting it right. A few more weeks is not going to matter if we can do a much better job.