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What is actually in that stimulus bill that got no Republican support?

Posted by dimensionm on 2009.02.14 at 19:49
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Tags: , , , , ,
...Quite a few Republican ideas, it turns out.

Republicans claim that the stimulus plan got no Republican votes in the House and only a couple in the Senate because their ideas weren't taken into account. They also claim that too much of the plan is social policy instead of actual economic stimulus. Both of these points are nonsense. A closer examination of the stimulus bill--that we're told was "written by House Democrats" (more nonsense)--reveals that quite a bit of it reflects the more sound Republican economic ideas and priorities.

Just for fun, I've taken a breakdown from the Wall Street Journal, hardly an advocate of progressive economic policies. They've been running editorials for weeks blasting the stimulus package on grounds taken right from congressional Republican talking points. No doubt the Journal would be quick to pounce on wasteful social policy spending in the bill. And yet, here's what they say regarding the facts:

The largest category of the stimulus bill is actually tax cuts. Yes, that's right, tax cuts. Not spending. Not social policy. Not new debt. Tax cuts. Republicans like tax cuts. Thirty-eight percent (38%) of the stimulus bill is tax cuts. Repeat: 38% of this bill is tax cuts, not spending. The includes exemptions for middle-class Americans from the "evil" Alternative Minimum Tax, long a Republican pet peeve. The estimated cost of that provision alone is $69.8 billion.

Add on to that another $116.1 billion to provide individuals earning up to $100,000 per year and couples earning up to $200,000 per year with $400 and $800 payroll tax credits. This is something else Republicans have long advocated.

Another $6.6 billion goes to tax credits for first time home buyers, a credit which will be raised to $8,000 and will now be refundable. The credit applies to purchases of homes between April 2008 and June 2009, so it could potentially help people having trouble paying their mortgages as well as people wanting to jump into the housing market now. $6.6 billion could be chump change if it has the effect of encouraging more people to buy houses, helping to stabilize prices and address one of the underlying causes of the current recession.

Finally, $5.1 billion goes for tax breaks to allow businesses to deduct the costs of investments in plants and equipment more quickly--in theory stimulating spending by small businesses, which create as much as 70% of American jobs. I would have actually preferred this to be three or four times larger, but again, the point is to get a bill passed quickly, not worry endlessly over detail.

The next largest category is the 37.9% of money going to aid for state and local governments, as well as individuals. This includes $40.6 billion in aid to states for education, $87 billion in temporary assistance to states to shore up Medicaid, and $8 billion in aid to states for public safety and critical services. $27 billion goes to large extensions of jobless benefits, especially in states with high unemployment. Throw in another $2 billion in funds for communities to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed and vacant properties.

$1.4 billion goes to an education tax credit to cover expenses for tuition and books. $17.2 billion goes increases in student aid, including raising the maximum Pell Grant to $5,550 by 2010. And $200 million goes to colleges for expansions of work-study programs. I would prefer that the education aid funding was larger, especially considering that we need large increases just to get funding back to levels that are merely adequate after 8 years of Republican cuts. I would also like to see some of this educational aid made retroactive to give some relief to younger workers who are currently buried under a mountain of student loans. But what's in this bill is a good start.

The smallest category of the cost of the stimulus bill is spending, at 24.1%. Now where is all this money going? $30 billion is going into modernization of the electric grid and other efforts to move the country toward more efficient energy use and conversion to alternative fuels--long overdue. $29 billion goes for construction and modernization of roads and bridges--also long overdue (ask anyone in Minneapolis). $19 billion goes to help hospitals and physicians switch to computerized medical records, an urgently needed first step to bringing down health care costs. $18 billion goes for grants and loans for water infrastructure, flood prevention, and environmental cleanup--still more spending that is long overdue.

Smaller expenditures include $8.5 billion for medical research into such conditions as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers' disease, and Parkinsons' disease--conditions that kill or sicken millions of our citizens every year. $5 billion goes for home weatherization grants for low and middle income families. $6.3 billion goes for energy efficiency upgrades for federally supported housing. $8.4 billion goes for improvements to public transportation and $8 billion goes for investments in improving high-speed rail service. The transportation money is yet one more example of spending that is painfully overdue--anyone remember those $4.25/gallon gas prices?

All in all, this is a sensible bill. Republicans are not withholding their support because of too much spending and not enough tax cuts. They are not withholding their support because they weren't listened to or because the White House has not made an effort to be bipartisan. Quite simply, they are withholding their support because they hope to embarrass the President and because they seem to think obstructionism rather than ideas is their way back into power.

(Adapted from an article I wrote for "The Mall", the official blog of the USA 2020 political simulation game. Cross-posted in usa2020 and theleftunited.)

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