Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bipartisanship is Marketing

To those who believe that Obama's attempts at bipartisanship demonstrate abandonment of political advantage (as if the stimulus bill would sail through if not for Obama's outreach to Republicans?) or misguided (in the manner of David Broder's apparent belief that a solution reached through compromise is always better, even when one side to an argument is clearly wrong), I say the following: When a politician refers to "bipartisanship", the politician should be seen as either admitting that he doesn't have the political clout to carry an issue without help from the minority party, or because he feels that the public wants him to appear bipartisan.

The difficulty for Obama is that he's dealing with a minority party that has decided (probably correctly) that its power lies in obstructionism, and the media is packed with people like Broder who can't or won't admit that you don't need to compromise in the face of obstructionism. Granted, had Obama not played up to the public belief that bipartisanship is a good thing and that he would be a bipartisan leader, he would be better positioned to say, "This isn't the time for bipartisanship." But had he done that, he probably wouldn't be President.


  1. A large part of the difficulty for the President to date has been the result of choosing to nominate some shady characters and pushing out a stimulus bill that has to much ideology and not enough stimulus . . .

    I don't dispute in the least your comments about the Republican party, but he doesn't have to make it so easy for them . . .


  2. Exactly what part (or parts) of the stimulus bill refelcts "too much ideology and not enough stimulus", representing how much money?

  3. Because it amuses me and I didn’t have the time or inclination to do an in-depth review, I chose to answer you thusly:

    1) I created a quick and noninclusive list of “non-stimulus” provisions in the bill.

    2) I took “ideological” to include “populist”, “pork”, and sometimes just "not stimulus."

    3) Some of the “non-stimulus” items are good policy, some aren’t. Some things that arguably are “stimulus” are bad policy (in my opinion) but stimulus, so they don’t make the list:

    4) I used CBO figures wherever possible.

    5) I made some judgment calls on “what constitutes stimulus”. Generally, things like school construction made the cut, things like “school loans, new education programs (which generally don’t involve hiring new teachers), and food stamps” did not. (Although I conceded that food stamps get spent in the short term, it isn’t agriculture that is suffering in this country and I don’t think it is the “staples” portion of our economy that needs stimulating, but I concede that the point is arguable . . .)

    $248 million for Inspectors General for several agencies and the Government Accountability Office.
    $20.0 billion over the next five years to temporarily increase the maximum benefit under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program);
    $3.0 billion for grants to improve the criminal justice system,
    $3.0 billion for grants to fund science and technology research
    $1.0 billion for periodic censuses and programs,
    $1.0 billion for programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
    $1.0 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Services program; and
    $2.4 billion for other activities of Commerce, Justice and Science.
    $17.6 billion for Pell grants and other student financial assistance and facilities at post-secondary institutions including federal student loan programs; and
    $29.1 billion for other education programs aimed particularly at elementary and
    secondary education.
    $13.1 billion for other (other than construction) transportation programs administered by DOT;
    $11.1 billion for housing assistance programs administered by HUD; and
    $39.5 billion available to states each year—on July 1, 2009, and July 1, 2010 (the last quarter of fiscal years 2009 and 2010, respectively). Of this total, about $32 billion would be allotted by formula, of which at least 61 percent would be used for education and up to 39 percent for general government
    activities. An additional $7.5 billion in each year would be reserved for incentive grants
    to be given to states on a competitive basis in fiscal year 2010, based on states meeting
    specified criteria in how they spent their initial allocations. States would have to allocate
    at least 50 percent of those funds to local education agencies.
    - Division B of H.R. 1 contains provisions that would increase direct spending for
    unemployment insurance, health care, fiscal relief for states through the Medicaid
    program, and other programs. Division B also contains numerous tax provisions that
    would reduce federal revenues and increase outlays for certain grants and refundable tax
    credits. In total, CBO estimates that enacting the provisions in Division B would
    increase direct spending by $64 billion in 2009 and $248 billion over the 2009-2019
    period, and would reduce revenues by $76 billion in 2009 and $212 billion over the 2009-
    2019 period. (Unemployment Insurance I would count as stimulus (it gets spent quickly) the rest I would not.)
    Tax Provisions. Title I of Division B would make several changes to tax law that the
    Joint Committee on Taxation estimates would lower federal revenues by about $63
    billion in fiscal year 2009 and by about $188 billion over the 2009-2019 period. Some of
    the changes in tax law would also affect outlays for payments of refundable tax credits.
    Those changes would increase outlays by about $80 billion over the 2009-2019 period. In
    particular, the legislation would:
    ● For tax years 2009 and 2010, create a refundable tax credit of up to $500 for a
    single taxpayer ($1,000 for joint filers), to be phased out for taxpayers with
    income above certain thresholds. It is anticipated that the credit would be partially
    reflected in reduced income-tax withholding from paychecks. JCT estimates that
    the provisions would reduce revenues by $99 billion and increase outlays by
    $45 billion over the 2009-2011 period. (A tax relief bill that raises take home pay by $20 a week won’t do much to stimulate the economy . . . )
    ● Modify an existing nonrefundable tax credit for higher education expenses to
    increase the maximum credit allowed to $2,500, lengthen the period for which the
    credit may be claimed to four years, expand the list of qualifying expenses, and
    make up to 40 percent of the credit refundable. JCT estimates that those provisions
    would reduce revenues by $10 billion and increase outlays by $3 billion over the
    2009-2011 period.
    Health Insurance for Unemployed Workers. Section 3003 would allow states to extend
    Medicaid coverage to certain involuntarily separated, unemployed individuals and their
    families through December 31, 2010. Those provisions would increase mandatory federal spending and decrease federal revenues, for a net increase in the deficit of an estimated $40 billion over the 2009-2019 period, mostly in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
    Federal Medical Assistance Percentage. Title V of Division B (section 5001) would
    temporarily increase the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) used for the
    Medicaid program from October 1, 2008, through December 31, 2010. The Medicaid
    FMAP is the share of the total cost of Medicaid-covered medical services that the federal
    government pays and is based on a formula that assigns a higher federal matching rate to
    states that have lower income per capita (and vice versa) relative to the national average.
    CBO estimates that the provision would increase Medicaid outlays by
    about $87 billion over the 2009-2019 period, mostly in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
    (Outlays for IV-E foster care and adoption would total about $0.8 billion.)
    Other Medicaid Provisions. Section 5003 (in title V of Division B) would extend
    transitional medical assistance (TMA) through December 30, 2010. This section would
    modify TMA by allowing individuals to receive benefits for a longer period of time and
    would waive the requirement that a family have three months of coverage before
    receiving TMA. CBO estimates that those provisions would increase federal spending by $550 million over the 2009-2019 period, mostly in fiscal years 2009 through 2011.
    Health Information Technology. H.R. 1 would establish payment incentives in the
    Medicare and Medicaid programs to encourage providers to adopt health information
    technology (health IT). Although adoption would be encouraged through financial
    incentives administered through those programs, all health care spending—both public
    and private—would be affected by the increased use of health IT. CBO expects that its
    adoption on a nationwide basis would reduce total spending on health care by
    diminishing the number of inappropriate tests and procedures, reducing paperwork and
    administrative overhead, and decreasing the number of adverse events resulting from
    medical errors. CBO estimates that the payment incentives would increase spending for the Medicare and Medicaid programs by $31.0 billion over the 2009-2019 period.

  4. You're funny - I agree that inspector general funding is pork, though - cut it. ;-) It was an unfair question - but your answer suggests what I was getting at. There's a perception of politics and pork in this bill, but that's because of a minority of the bill's spending provisions and spin. There's no clear consensus on what's "pork" and what's not, but it tends to be "smaller" expenditures ("$248 million for Inspectors General", "$20.0 billion over five years for SNAP", "$3.0 billion for criminal justice research grants [wanna bet, all for the prosecution?]") that are the focus of criticism.

    It's not at all unfair to focus on odd provisions, pork, and stupidity in the spending bill and say, "Why is this in here? Should it be in here? Shouldn't it be cut?" But when you reduce it to the most obvious "pork" where you could probably get 60% of the nation to agree that its "pork", you're probably talking 10% of the bill. By Congressional standards, dismal as they are, that's pretty good.

    Next you move into things like tax cuts, and now we're in the realm of ideology. As you know, the Republicans have proposed a "stimulus bill" of their own, about three times as costly as Obama's, focusing on tax cuts... for the rich. They probably echo the tax incentives you classify as "pork", not only because they always throw a bone (and usually nothing more) to the middle class to try to get us to bite on their "tax reform" agenda, it actually fits the description of what they contend is a valid "stimulus".

    That's where Obama gets a lot of criticism. His administration engineered a bill with about $300 billion in tax cuts to woo Republican support and he got zero Republican votes. But just tell me, had he loaded the bill up with $100bbn in Republican pork, he couldn't have purchased a good number of votes. Isn't that what they're doing in the Senate - assuming few Democratic defections from a bill, the only place that Republican votes actually matter? A "reinflate the bubble" housing tax credit? C'mon.

    They're trying to buy enough votes to get the monster passed without a filibuster, and by any reasonable measure making a worse bill in the process.

  5. In support of your position, this was in the Washington Post today:

    Two Senators Seek to Strip $200 Billion From Stimulus

    Among the initiatives that could be cut are $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $14 million for cyber security research by the Homeland Security Department, $1 billion for the National Science Foundation, $400 million for research and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, $850 million for Amtrak and $400 million for climate change research. But so far, none of the suggestions come close to being enough to shrink the package on the scale proposed.



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