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Restraining Your Inner Fourth Grader! (by Elizabeth Burke) March 19, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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6 comments

I am a grown woman, but I have to admit that as soon as I read an article last week on Politico.com about the website,  ImSorryRush.com,  I could not on it click fast enough. It was as if my inner Fourth Grader was busting to get out and poke fun of the perceived “loser” in the class. The website is set up like the old Mad Lib game where you fill in a silly word or phrase for each Mad Lib indicated – and the topic is the recent rush (pardon the pun) of Republicans apologizing to Limbaugh for negative comments made about him in other arenas.  Now you too can crawl on your knees to the Altar of Rush.  

It seems that in the past few weeks, the most astonishing thing has been happening. The otherwise calm, cool and collected GOP seems to be eating themselves alive. First there is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s disastrous response to President Obama’s speech and the collective impulse to shove him under the bus. Then there is the daily iteration from the far Right in the visage of Rush Limbaugh, repeating his desire to see this Administration fail; the multiple verbal Michael Steele gaffes; Senator David Vitter (R-LA) (of the caught-with-a-prostitute fame) once again caught acting out, this time at an airport berating the airline staff for not letting him thru a security door to board a plane about to take off. Up North, the continuing morality play of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston just went pfft and turned into a trash-talking “he-said-she-said” cat fight straight out of People magazine! 

And of course, drug-addicted, obese, thrice-divorced, arrested-for-prescription-drug-fraud, currently-living-in-sin, malcontent conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, (yes 2 mentions!) being anointed the titular head of the Republican Party. There is more, but I think you get my point.

Common sense says that the Democrats should Leave Well Enough Alone. We have the White House, most of Congress and sadly soon, one more seat on the Supreme Court. We should be gracious and thoughtful.  We should QUIETLY – with focus – take the high road.

Quite frankly, the GOP is doing an excellent job of self-immolation. All the Dems need to do is pull up a log and toast some marshmallows over their fire. The latest attempts by the Left, to smugly point fingers and laugh through cupped palms at the auto-cannibalism of the GOP, needs to be stopped. It reeks of pettiness and bad sportsmanship and undermines the actual progress the Democrats have made in uniting the country in a time of economic crisis. 

But as a barely restrained Fourth Grader at heart, I know how easy it is to poke fun at the weak!  Let’s take the case of the brand new Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. Just one day after he publicly decried Rush as ‘incendiary” and “ugly” he had to get on his knees and grovel for the big guy’s forgiveness.  He then made, what I believe to be truthful, comments on his belief in a women’s right to choose, and his assertion that homosexuality is how one is born and not a choice (comparing it to being born Black, imagine that!) And before you can say “Please Rush don’t hurt me” Steele is backpedaling so fast, I got whiplash just reading about it! In just over 2 months, the GOP knives are sharpened and there is already infighting about his possible impeachment. Impeachment!! Even Conservative David Frum said he was sickened by the attacks on Michael Steele for saying abortion was an ‘individual’ choice. The Right eating the Right is wrong.

Indeed, there are rumblings within the GOP to have Wisconsin’s Norm Coleman replace Steele. But, well, it seems Coleman is currently under FBI investigation. Word leaked only a few months ago that the FBI was looking into allegations that the former Senator’s family received $75,000 in secret payments from a longtime friend and benefactor. Those payments went unreported on Coleman’s financial disclosure form, leading some congressional ethicist to draw parallels to the corruption case that ultimately took down former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Oh for God’s sake.

Now for an example of a GOP rising star totally missing the point, let’s talk about Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC.) Just last week in response to a comment by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Sanford warned that the recently-signed stimulus bill could spur a Zimbabwe-style economic collapse:

“What you’re doing is buying into the notion that if we just print some more money that we don’t have, send it to different states – we’ll create jobs… If that’s the case why isn’t Zimbabwe a rich place?”…”why isn’t Zimbabwe just an incredibly prosperous place?” 

Sanford has said that he will reject a portion of the stimulus money that would expand unemployment benefits, which now hovers at about 10.4% in SC. He has also promised to turn down $700 million meant in large part for education programs if he is not granted a waiver to instead use the money to pay down his state’s debts. If your house is burning, do you take the buckets of water, put them aside and save them in case this happens again, or do you take the water and PUT THE DAMN FIRE OUT?! 

A conservative South Carolina newspaper, The State, penned an editorial on Sunday blasting, (ripping to shreds) Gov. Mark Sanford for his political grandstanding. The best part? Republicans in the South Carolina State Senate are currently laying the groundwork to accept the stimulus funds Gov. Mark Sanford is promising to reject. Defying their own on their own! “Without the stimulus funds, teachers would lose jobs, prisons would be closed, and inmates released early,” Dan Cooper, a Republican state representative, told the Associated Press. 

Even totally inconsequential Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-GA) went to the Altar to seek His forgiveness for daring to criticize His Holy Loud Mouthed One. All he said was this: “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.”  Of course within days he was tripping over himself to say “As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values. I have actively opposed every bailout, every rebate check, every so-called ‘stimulus.’ And on so many of these things, I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh.”  So sad. I assume his constituency all have jobs, homes, health care and didn’t need any of that money.

And of course, amidst all the outrage (!) this week focused at the AIG psychopaths, a pitchfork wielding Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggested that these hookers-without-a-heart-of-gold commit suicide in the honorable old tradition of Japanese Hari Kari. Of course barely minutes later, scrambling to explain his comments, he inadvertently had a verbal malfunction “From my standpoint, it’s irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses at this time when they’re sucking the tit of the taxpayer,” Grassley explained.  Look, when they make it this easy, what’s a girl to do?

That said, as a self-described Lefty McLiberal, lover of all things green, pursuer of clean energy, hugger of those less fortunate and crier at State sponsored torture, I find it embarrassing that there are some in the White House that are actively working to tie the GOP to Limbaugh and his ilk.

What works in a guest blog post does not necessarily fly as party policy. 

Formalizing these behind-the-hand whisperings and deep-in-the-tubal-interweb musings is really adolescent and amateurish, a “distraction” as the President was so fond of saying in the days of his campaign, when he spoke of a new kind of politics that would transcend partisan pettiness.  And while it appeals to everyone’s inner 4th grader, I’m still an idealist who believes that Obama’s promise to be better than this is something we all can and must strive towards.

I don’t believe the Democratic National Committee should be spending one dime to hold a contest to find a new theme in their ongoing campaign to portray Rush Limbaugh as the true leader of the Republican Party. The slogan, “Americans didn’t vote for a Rush to failure,” will be splashed across a billboard in Limbaugh’s hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida, and printed on T-shirts, a Democratic National Committee official told CNN. My Fourth Grade self inwardly laughed and clapped her hands with glee while my rational adult side sighed deeply and shook her head. 

It’s easy to attack the GOP while is at it’s weakest in over 40 years, as they struggle to fight its way out of political inconsequence, searching for a message that doesn’t encompass the ugliness that we have seen through festering mouthpieces like Ann Coulter, Hannity, Rush and the entire Fox news channel.  

 

It makes for a stronger statement for us, the Democratic, to show restraint. Both parties have made huge errors recently, most notably taking out the legislation requiring Executive pay limits from the stimulus bill.  

This image of high ranking Dems hunched over, rubbing their hands in glee, jumping on the bash-wagon like rats jumping on a well-stocked-ship needs to stop. We need to let the Republicans find their own way, make their own mistakes, fall all over themselves trying to out-conservative each other, threaten each other, and destroy their party all by themselves.

These are scary and uncertain times for the rest of us. I want a rational hand steering the ship, and we have that, and the crew better stop acting like 4th Graders and focus on getting the country back on it’s feet or they will be out on their asses in less than 4 years, with little left to crow about.

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Despite Republican Obstinance, The Stimulus Plan Will Soon Reach the President. Will it help alleviate the worst effects of our economic crisis? February 13, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Stimulus.
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9 comments

The Politics.  Well, after much ado, a sufficient number of Legislators have agreed to the compromise stimulus plan.  For such a major piece of legislation, it was passed with remarkable speed but without bipartisan support.  In fact, though Democratic leaders offered to work with any Republicans willing to sit down and hammer out a compromise after the House and Senate each failed to pass their version of the legislation, only three Republican Senators, Arlen Specter (PA), Susan Collins (ME), and Olympia Snowe (ME), accepted the offer and helped reach a compromise that all involved in the negotiations could support.  And, even after Democratic leaders increased tax breaks and cut spending at their behest, not a single House Republican or any Senate Republican, save these three, offered their support.  The president didn’t need House Republican support for passage, but it would have been nice to see some work with him in his attempt to stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work.  But it was not to be. 

Everyone, including Congressional Republicans, agree that our economy is in dire straits.  The IMF said this week that leading economies are already in a depression, and the President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank said she saw “the same type of dynamics taking place that do happen in a depression, according to Dana Millbank of the Washington Post.  Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) acknowledged Monday, “the economy is in serious trouble.”

Still, Congressional Republicans said they could not support the plan because it is too big, it will not adequately stimulate the economy, and it will permanently expand government spending programs.  Even with 36% of the resources allocated for tax breaks, Republicans weren’t taking the bait.  Rather, Congressional Republicans joined ranks and refused to budge, all while pressuring the three Republican Senators who did participate to stand down.  Despite their actions, though, Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Politics, reported that Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) said Wednesday, “I know of no Republican in the Congress of the United States that wants to do nothing.”  Not all Republican leaders agree.  Michael Steele, the new Republican Party chairman who has disgraced himself repeatedly in his short tenure, boastfully told House Republicans, “The goose egg that you laid on the president’s desk was just beautiful.”  President Obama has his work cut out for him in bringing a new, civil and dignified tone to Washington in the face of this Republican leadership. 

President Obama, after reaching out to Republicans to join in crafting the stimulus package to no avail, realized he would not garner the 80 Senate votes he had hoped the bill would attract and went to the public to promote the stimulus.  While the nearly total lack of support from Congressional Republicans may have made a less devoted man decide it was impossible in today’s climate to persuade our leaders to work together for the people they represent, President Obama has not wavered.  In an article that appeared in the New York Times and at MSNBC.com, Peter Baker reported, that President Obama has not given up on fostering a spirit of cooperation in Washington.  Rather, he noted that while the time for garnering bipartisan support of this legislation had passed, he made clear that he will continue his efforts.  “As I continue to make these overtures, over time, hopefully they will be reciprocated.”  And the people are watching.

The New York Times reported that we lost 598,000 jobs in January, leaving 3.6 million officially unemployed Americans.  With Republican posturing in the face of these dismal numbers, the public is not happy.  According to a Feb. 6-7 Gallup Poll, 67% of Americans are pleased with the way President Obama is handling the economic crisis, while only 31% approve of the way Republicans in Congress have conducted themselves.  This poll was conducted before President Obama’s Monday press conference, where he undoubtedly won over more Americans with his explanation of why the stimulus is needed and what benefits it will provide.  Even so, the poll revealed that the American people have more confidence in President Obama now than they did when he was inaugurated.  Fifty-five percent say their confidence in his ability to improve the economy has increased.  And 51% say the same about his ability to manage the federal government. 

Three Republicans Found a Compromise They Could Support. Lacking any Republican support, the stimulus plan could not pass.  Fortunately, the president picked up the support of three Senate Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.  Senator Specter particularly deserves the appreciation of the President and the American people.  He is the only one of the three facing reelection in 2010, and his support at home is waning.  Acknowledging this situation, he said, “I have no doubts about the political disadvantage.  [I’m] losing a lot of political skin about this… It means I’ll have to raise a lot more money.”  This is particularly true since, according to CNN, Scott Wheeler, the executive director of The National Republican Trust PAC announced Wednesday that, “Republican senators are on notice… If they support the stimulus package, we will make sure every voter in their state knows how they tried to further bankrupt voters in an already bad economy.”  He threatened to provide financial support to any primary challenger to the Senators who supported the plan, and vowed to actively campaign against any Republican who agreed to spend more than $800 billion (probably contributing to the $787 ceiling).  He specifically targeted Specter, saying, “[H]e has “crossed the line too many times.  We’re now going to get involved in finding a conservative alternative.”  President Obama and Congressional Democrats should recognize his courageous support, and voters should note that he voted for what he thought best for the country rather than what he thought best for his career. 

The Plan: Breakdown and Highlights. The stimulus plan, now totaling $787 billion, with $505 billion (approximately 64%) in spending and $282 billion (approximately 36%) in tax cuts is a close approximation of President Obama’s initial plan.  He wanted a 60 – 40 split.  It allocates resources among four categories:

  • Tax breaks;
  •  Infrastructure projects, (e.g. transportation, broadband expansion, etc.);
  • Aid to state and local governments; and
  • Investments in healthcare and alternative energy initiatives.

 The Associated Press has provided highlights of the compromise stimulus bill – its spending, tax cuts and incentives.  A summary of the spending provisions is below.  Note that a fuller picture is provided on their site, which is helpful, as certain spending provisions could be placed under two or more categories:

  • Health Care                                                           $137 billion
  • Energy                                                                     $ 97 billion
  • Education                                                               $ 91 billion (includes school repairs)
  • Infrastructure                                                        $ 86 billion  (transportation, internet, etc.)
  • Aid to Poor and Unemployed                            $ 67 billion 
  • Direct Cash Payments                                        $ 14 billion
  • State Block Grants                                               $   8 billion
  • Scientific Research                                              $   6 billion
  • Law Enforcement                                                 $   4 billion
  • Homeland Security                                              $   3 billion

The Battle Over Education Spending. Working with Harry Reid (D-NV) and other top Democrats, including Ben Nelson (IN), the three Republican Senators put together a compromise bill that cut $110 billion of spending that Collins and Nelson said “didn’t belong in the bill.”  Matt Yglesias of Think Progress reported that they cut $20 billion for targeted school repairs and modernization, $7.5 billion to help states progress in meeting No Child Left Behind goals, $1 billion for Head Start, and $25 billion in flexible funding for states that could be used for education projects.  Yet after they cut education spending significantly, Nelson publicly patted himself and Collins on the back, saying that after cutting wasteful spending, “what remains will fund education.” 

Many Congressional Republicans, it seems, believe it is an improper use of the stimulus money to bring schools up to compliance with fire, health, and safety codes, better insulate them to save energy and governmental energy costs.  They (erroneously) argue that it is not an investment to modernize, renovate or repair science and engineering labs or libraries or career and technical school facilities.  It is likely that they fear that spending money now would open a flood gate, that the administration would continue to raise education funding, thus expanding government in a way that they oppose.  But that argument can’t stand when it comes to school repair any more than it can when talking of road repair. School construction creates jobs and puts money into the economy, and weather proofing schools will save on energy costs in the future.  Given that it meets the goals of the stimulus package, and given the low construction costs resulting from this economy, providing much needed repairs at below market value seems to me a solid plan.

House Democrats were understandably distressed over the cuts to school construction and to education spending overall. It is clear to them that we need our students to improve their science skills and master new technologies to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy. This spending is an investment in our people that will help boost our economy now, as the spending occurs, and down the road, when students enter the work force.  Some House Democrats were so distraught over these cuts that they even considered withholding their support for the president’s bill.  But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who also vocally opposed the education cuts, called a meeting with concerned Democrats, which the Washington Post reports opened with chants of, “We want more.”  During the meeting, however, cooler heads prevailed, all involved relented and threw their support behind the compromise bill.

Infrastructure Spending.  Rachel Maddow noted that spending increases economic activity more heavily than do tax cuts, and that some types of spending provide more bang for the buck than do other forms.  She provided a few examples of the ‘multiplier effect,” where government investment provides more economic activity than the amount spent.

  • Tax cuts                                           $1 = $1.09 in economic activity
  • Infrastructure Spending              $1 = $1.59 in economic activity
  • Foodstamps                                    $1 = $1.73 in economic activity

 Despite this, the Senate agreement not only cut nearly $20 billion for school construction, but also cut $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings to make them more energy efficient, and cut $2 billion to expand broadband networks in rural and underserved areas.

 As it turns out, some infrastructure projects are more of a stimulus than others.  According to The Economist:

  • Every $1 billion investment in infrastructure creates 35,000 jobs. 
  • Repairing roads and bridges creates 9% more jobs than building new ones. 
  • Spending on public transit creates 19% more jobs than building new roads.  And, not only does spending on public transit translate into the highest multiplier effect, it also serves other policy goals such as lowering dependence on foreign oil, saving energy and reducing pollution and congestion.  Moreover, convenient and efficient public transit saves Americans money by reducing the costs of fuel, car maintenance and repairs and insurance. 

 But the stimulus plan does not allocate enough to public transit to make a marked improvement.  The Associated Press provided highlights of the plan, reporting that of the $46 billion being spent on infrastructure, $27 billion goes toward building and repairing roads and bridges, while only $8.4 billion is being spent on mass transit. Even with an additional $8 billion for building high-speed railways, our government has not shown that it is serious about cutting emissions by taking this opportunity to build a twenty-first century transit system.

 And, of the $27 billion for roads and bridges, indications are that many states are choosing to build new ones rather than repair old ones.  Nineteen states have made public their transport requests and more than half requested that 80% of the funding be spent on roads, mostly on building new ones.  While some new roads and bridges may be badly needed, there is a risk that too many states will make poor decisions.  Moreover, where practicable, money should be put into alternatives that create the most jobs, save energy, help protect the environment, and save consumers their hard earned money.

 Transparency.  President Obama promised that his administration would operate in the open, and he is delivering on that promise here.  His administration will set up a website, resources.gov, which will track projects receiving funding and their progress.  It will allow us to see how the money is being used, providing accountability for poor decisions, excessive spending and other important matters.  It will allow us to see whether the stimulus plan creates the promised 3.5 million jobs.  And it will allow state and federal leaders to see what work remains to be done.  Mostly, it will provide a welcome departure from the secrecy of George W. Bush’s administration.

Conclusion. Partisan railing aside, I’m not against removing items from the stimulus bill that don’t aid our goals of providing sustenance to those worst hit by the abysmal economy, maintaining and building the middle class by increasing employment, building and improving our infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency, or building a sustainable economy.   I do, however, favor redirecting those resources to projects that meet these goals well rather than cutting the size of the bill. The bill already provides for spending a vast amount of money, and nearly all economists agree that it will take a bold initiative, likely more bold even than this, to alleviate the economic crisis we’re experiencing.  Minor cutting isn’t going to substantially affect our debt – at least not so much as to do too little when doing too little may make things much worse.  Accordingly, I would like to have seen less allocated for tax cuts and more marked for education and for infrastructure, particularly for public transit.  That said, I believe most of the measures will help improve our current situation, and that this is only the first step President Obama will take in his efforts to guide us back to economic health.