House Democrats have come up with an $825 billion stimulus bill. Republican Minority Leader John Boehner’s initial reaction — “Oh, my God!” — expressed the abject disgust that many will feel once they learn what is in it. Boehner’s office put out a handy guide to some of the “lowlights”:
1. The House Democrats’ bill will cost each and every household $6,700 additional debt, paid for by our children and grandchildren.
2. The total cost of this one piece of legislation is almost as much as the annual discretionary budget for the entire federal government.
3. President-elect Obama has said that his proposed stimulus legislation will create or save three million jobs. This means that this legislation will spend about $275,000 per job. The average household income in the U.S. is $50,000 a year.
4. The House Democrats’ bill provides enough spending — $825 billion — to give every man, woman, and child in America $2,700.
5. $825 billion is enough to give every person living in poverty in the U.S. $22,000.
6. $825 billion is enough to give every person in Ohio $72,000.
7. Although the House Democrats’ proposal has been billed as a transportation and infrastructure investment package, in actuality only $30 billion of the bill — or three percent — is for road and highway spending. A recent study from the Congressional Budget Office said that only 25 percent of infrastructure dollars can be spent in the first year, making the one year total less than $7 billion for infrastructure.
8. Much of the funding within the House Democrats’ proposal will go to programs that already have large, unexpended balances. For example, the bill provides $1 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which already have $16 billion on hand. And, this year, Congress has plans to rescind $9 billion in highway funding that the states have not yet used.
9. In 1993, the unemployment rate was virtually the same as the rate today (around seven percent). Yet, then-President Clinton’s proposed stimulus legislation ONLY contained $16 billion in spending.
10. Here are just a few of the programs and projects that have been included in the House Democrats’ proposal:
- $650 million for digital TV coupons.
- $6 billion for colleges/universities — many which have billion dollar endowments.
- $166 billion in direct aid to states — many of which have failed to budget wisely.
- $50 million in funding for the National Endowment of the Arts.
- $44 million for repairs to U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters.
- $200 million for the National Mall, including grass planting.
- $400 million for “National Treasures.”
11. Almost one-third of the so called tax relief in the House Democrats’ bill is spending in disguise, meaning that true tax relief makes up only 24 percent of the total package — not the 40 percent that President-elect Obama had requested.
12. $825 billion is just the beginning — many Capitol Hill Democrats want to spend even more taxpayer dollars on their “stimulus” plan.
But the House Republicans are not simply saying “no.” (Or even “Hell, no!”) They are taking seriously Obama’s offer to listen to their ideas. They are holding hearings and presenting their ideas — mostly in the form of tax cuts or defense spending.
The House Republicans, not always know for finesse, seem then to be operating on a clever two-track process. On one hand, they are lambasting the existing Democratic plan, which certainly bears the Obama administration’s imprint, but for now is presented under the House Democrats’ name. The Republicans are making clear it isn’t a stimulus plan, isn’t going to do much for economic recovery, and isn’t going to get many of their votes. On the other hand, they are ignoring the Obama team’s influence in shaping that very plan and instead answering his high-minded calls for input with plenty of constructive and conservative ideas of their own.
Will it work? It depends, as Bill Clinton might say, on what the definition of “work” is. If they are aiming to refashion the Obama stimulus plan into one all conservatives could embrace the answer is almost certainly “no.” But two other outcomes are possible, and either could be termed a success of sorts.
First, the Obama might embrace their ideas — add meaningful tax rate cuts, swap domestic pork for needed defense spending, and reduce the overall level of spending. The Republicans would thereby demonstrate their relevance and influence — and deal a setback to their House counterparts who would then be characterized as to the left of Obama. Triangulation would be back.
The more likely result, however, will be that virtually none of their ideas gets into the bill. In that case they can in good conscience vote against it, making clear that “bipartisanship” is a flimsy façade and that the responsibility for the bloated deficit and useless spending bonanza rests solely with the Democrats. That “works” too.
Now all of this will take place before the bill reaches the Senate. Then it will be Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chance to perform the same task: force the new administration to give ground or corral his caucus to vote en masse against the spend-a-thon.
Republicans haven’t always played their cards well over the last couple of years. Their tone has often been off-putting and their policy muddled. And they were hampered to a large extent by the pressure to defend the Republican president. Nevertheless, they have learned to operate in the minority with limited parliamentary rights and a dwindling caucus. And they found out the hard way that it doesn’t pay to get buffaloed into support for ill-conceived rescue plans.
So for now, they are doing the best with what they have — which isn’t much. And they are posing a challenge to the new administration: does the Obama team really want to reenact the New Deal or do they want a bipartisan plan that might just work to promote growth and lift the economy out of recession? We’ll find out the answer soon enough.