Friday, January 23, 2009


Jefferson Memorial: Bobo thinks the grass is too expensive

David Brooks has laid out the standards that Obama's economic plan must meet in order to gain the approval of conservative Republicans in The First Test New York Times 01/23/09. Would you be surprised to learn that Obama is failing those tests already?

Here's Bobo Brooks' take on things:

There is a strong case to be made for a short, sharp stimulus package to restrain the collapse of the American economy. This would involve big, simple programs with immediate impact — a temporary cut in the payroll tax, big aid to the states, expanded unemployment insurance and food stamps.
The latter three of those programs are programs Republicans figure they can easily cut back when there are signs the economy is starting to improve, stigmatizing them as "welfare" of one kind or another.

Republicans pushing to cut the payroll tax - the one that pays for Social Security - is so crass a thing that you almost have to admire their shamelessness. Bobo is a big fan of "entitlement reform", by which they mean phasing out ("privatizing") Social Security and slashing Medicare. And one of their arguments against Social Security has always been that somehow the program is underfunded.

From that perspective, "a temporary cut in the payroll tax" would help make that argument more credible. Not only that, as we see with the "temporary" cut on the wealthiest taxpayers, the Republicans would try to frame the end of the "temporary cut" as a "massive tax increase". And making the payroll tax permanent would in turn increase any financing problems that Social Security might have. More specifically, it would create a financing problem where one scarcely exists.

Bobo continues:

There’s also a very strong case to be made for long-term government reform. America could fundamentally rethink its infrastructure policies — create a new model adapted to new modes of community-building. It could fundamentally rethink human capital policies — create a lifelong menu of learning options, from pre-K programs to service opportunities for the elderly.
It's anybody's guess what that bit of hot air actually means. But a good translation from BoboSpeak would probably be something like: We need to rely more on toll roads and the like to reduce even local and state governments' role. And cut taxes for business and the wealthy. And once we've gotten rid of Social Security and Medicare, older people won't be able to retire. Instead they'll have to seek out "service opportunities", i.e., jobs.

Bobo has three complains about Obama's proposed stimulus package:

The bill has three essential failings. First, it lacks any strategic vision. This $825 billion bill has to be passed within weeks. There’s no time for fundamental rethinking or new approaches. Instead, there’s a sloppy profusion of 152 different appropriations — off-the-shelf ideas that mostly create costlier versions of the status quo.
This is Bobo's attempt to channel Gomer Pyle: Gol-lee! This here stimulus thang is just so complicated! How can an ole country boy like me ever understand it?He also comes up with one of those numbers that conservatives love to make up and toss around to create a pretense of precision: "The total package is so diffuse, it costs $223,000 to create a single job."

He doesn't provide a reference, but I'm guessing he didn't make it up himself.

Second, the bill has relatively modest short-term impact. Many parts don’t even pretend to be stimulus measures, like funding for basic research, or special ed programs. But even the parts of the bill that aim to stimulate will have modest near-term impact. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that less than half of the money for infrastructure and discretionary programs would be spent by Oct. 1, 2010.
This is conservative boilerplate that Bobo loves to recite. Whenever a stimulus program that's not based exclusively on tax cuts is enacted and the economy then improves, they claim that the stimulus had nothing to do with the improvement. It was the magic of the market that did it, so the stimulus was unnecessary.

Oh, and Bobo is shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that not all the stimulus program is short-term!
Third, the spending measures in this bill have no sunset. In the middle of the Appropriations markup, the ranking member, Jerry Lewis from California, asked his chairman the crucial question: What happens when the economy recovers? Does this new spending disappear?
I guess he didn't hear all the times Obama said he was going to proceed with his long-term program for infrastructure and green technology. And the economy will need stimulus that extends beyond the next two months or whatever short period Bobo considers acceptable.

And Bobo's disappointed at not seeing whatever kind of change he wanted to see, which would presumably be Obama governing like John McCain would have: "On Tuesday, President Obama was inaugurated and vowed a new era. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee met and showed the old era was very much alive."

The old era? The one in which Cheney and Bush were proposing trillion-dollar economic stimulus packages?

And Bobo lays down a series of Village tests for Obama. When Beltway Villagers use phrases like "Obama is going to have to show ...", they mean that Obama is going to have to show them, the Pod Pundits like Bobo:

President Obama is clearly going to have to show the hard way that he meant what he said about bringing change. He didn’t run for president just to sign whatever bills the Old Bulls put on his desk.

He’s going to have to prove the hard way that he meant what he said about being pragmatic and evidence-based. That means he won’t sweep a C.B.O. study under the rug simply because the findings are inconvenient.

He’s going to have to show that his plans have credibility, that a stimulus bill is really a stimulus bill, and not a Christmas tree for every special interest desire.

If he can do that, we’ll look back on this stimulus as a timely, temporary and targeted success. If not, we’ll just remember it as the sprawling mess that kicked up dozens of scandal headlines about $200 million programs to lay grass around the Jefferson Memorial.

The glow of the inauguration lingers, but the precedent-setting tests are already at hand.
I guess I missed those dozens of "scandal headlines" about the groundskeeping at the Jefferson Memorial.

But Republicans get very, very concerned about how the taxpayer's dollar is being spent ... when there's a Democratic President. When their Dear Leader Bush was in office, not so much.

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