National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Stimulus, State-By-State

Yesterday, President Obama’s White House Press Office issued its first “blast” e-mail to every regional and local newspaper in the U.S., containing a lengthy 67-page “fact sheet” attachment delineating the concrete impact of the $850-billion stimulus package broken down on a state-by-state basis for every state in the union.

The package, the so-called “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” is now being fought out in the U.S. Senate after passage in the House last week. Due to the strange rules of the Senate, it is not enough that Democrats have a clear majority to pass the laws they support. They need the “filibuster-proof” supermajority of 60, and still barely lack it.

As a result, an outraged American population is watching the same Republicans they rooted out of office in a “bum’s rush” of epochal proportions in November, still holding the Democratic majority in a stranglehold, forcing ridiculous concessions. It is an obscenity.

In an earlier era, when there was a modicum of civility in the nation’s corridors of power, there was a respect, if grudging, for majority rule. It went under the phrase, “The will of the people.”

More recently, however, the “will of the people” seems to be the last thing lawmakers respect. It’s only the so-called “rules” that matter, especially when they can be brought to bear to block and frustrate the will of the clear majority. We’re all supposed to sit back, shrug our shoulders, and say, “Oh, well.”

Up until the recent years’ complete breakdown of civility, and with it, any sincere penchant for bi-partisanship, especially among Republicans, the threat or actual use of the filibuster was reserved for only the most extreme situations. Now, it is used with almost every piece of legislation that is considered, leading to an effective rule by minority.

While there’s no way to legislate against someone being a jerk, at least there could be a more vocal outrage than anyone seems willing to exhibit.

Still, obstructionist Republicans are living in a political bubble, a la-la land of ideological babble, absorbed by their own delusions that anything smacking of government intervention into the marketplace is an innate evil.

They seem to have no grasp of the fully-blown extent of the current crisis, something that the stimulus package is designed, as a rear-guard action, to begin mitigating.

The White House “blast” e-mail is presumably designed to outflank the Senate obstructionists, generating pressure from the ground up by going directly to the nation’s grassroots, spelling out on a state-by-state basis what facts about what the stimulus package will accomplish in terms of concrete jobs and lives.

Each state’s benefits delineated in the press release opens with the same preamble: “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is a nationwide effort to create jobs, jumpstart growth and transform our economy for the 21st century. Across the country, this plan will help businesses create jobs and families afford their bills while laying a foundation for future economic growth in key areas like health care, clean energy, education and a 21st century infrastructure. In (fill in the name of the state), this plan will deliver immediate, tangible impacts including:”

Separate paragraphs then spell out jobs saved or created, work pay tax cuts, new college credits, added unemployment insurance benefits, funds to modernize a specified number of schools, added renewable energy capacity, reduced medical errors through computerization of medical records, and investment increases for roads, bridges and mass transit systems.

While useful for its concreteness, by being broken down on a state-by-state basis, the “fact sheet” also exposes the limitations of the package compared to the scale of the problem. Simply put, the nation, and the planet, for a variety of lawful reasons, is sinking into a deflation that could take decades to remedy, and as with the Great Depression, only by not one or two, but multiple, massive “New Deal”-style government interventions.

The popular wisdom was that only World War II got the U.S. out of the Great Depression. In fact, it was everything the Roosevelt administration did to accomplish it, cumulatively, and the war was only the latest iteration of the “New Deal” concept. Even the war would not have sufficed but for Eisenhower’s massive government interventions in the 1950s and the subsequent globalization of the U.S. economy.