Thoughts on Stimulus
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has a piece in the Washington Post this morning entitled, Why I Support the Stimulus. Beside the rather boring title, I think — in general — I agree. There has been much machination about how the Obama administration failed to play this properly, but I think that’s wrong… both in function and form.
Functionally, this is a stimulus bill (though, I prefer the term recovery bill, not sure why that language isn’t used more frequently) whose primary purpose is to get the economy moving through a large scale injection of government spending. Period, full stop. It is not a green energy bill, or a universal health care bill, or an education reform bill. Those partisans who saw the stimulus as an opportunity to attach their personal pet project, regardless of how meretricious the idea might be, are guilty of the same sin as when the Republicans used September 11th to push through only tangentially related policy objectives through a hurried congressional approval process.
Specter, a moderate Republican, has joined with other Senate moderates to trim many of these programs. The folks over at Think Progress’ Wonk Room would have you believe the sky is falling and that these Senators oppose the programs they are either eliminating or reducing. But there is little evidence of that, and Specter admits that many of the programs being cut are “worthy in themselves.” But his point is that we have an appropriations process for this sort of thing, and with that process comes deliberation, transparency, and accountability. Just as anti-war activists were angered by the Bush Administration’s refusal to fund the Iraq War through the normal appropriations in an effort to hide the real cost, so too should we be angry when any other administration tries to go through the back door.
Which brings us to form. This isn’t a game! Do you hear me Nate Silver. Obama did not run — and he did not win — on the argument that he was going to get his way every time. He was elected on the premise that government is broken because we treat it like a game. There is this great story, which I can’t seem to find online now, that I first heard reported on the Daily Show. Leading up to the 2006 midterm elections, where the polls suggested the Democrats where going to seize power in the House (the Senate was still too close to call), a White House official was asked how Bush was going to work together with the new Democratic Committee Chairs. The official responded with a glib response about how, “we are playing this game to win it,” implying the Administration wasn’t going to entertain the idea that the Republicans would lose their majority. Then, in a moment of absolute political honesty, a reporter gave a follow up… “It isn’t a game. The American people want to know how you are going to govern.”
And the dude was absolutely right. I’ve been in politics, I know it’s easy to treat the whole thing like a game, with pieces you move around the board and objectives achieved. But this is real life, it has real consequences, and developing strategies based on the philosophy that this is a game, and not governing, is exactly what Obama ran against. He is governing, best he knows how, and helping forge a stimulus bill he believes will get America moving again. The rest of the Congress, they are governing too, in their own way and with their own priorities. But we shouldn’t treat this as a game, and we shouldn’t say anyone played anything right or wrong. It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about the our lives.