Stimulus defenders wake up

STIMULUS DEFENDERS WAKE UP…. After a propaganda bombardment that’s been so intense that even those who would benefit from economic stimulus package are voicing their opposition to it, those congressional staffers and appropriations experts who crafted the bill in the first place “have become nearly apoplectic.” It’s about time.

The stimulus package, they say, is one of the most intricate pieces of legislation to come out of Congress in decades, one that achieves goals progressives have unsuccessfully sought for a quarter-century (yes, even through the Clinton administration).

In a series of interviews, these staffers, frustrated by the lack of effective push-back to the criticisms and restrained in their ability to mount an on-the-record defense, have resorted instead to an unexpected form of rebuttal — so what?

As in: So what if the bill includes a litany of unrelated projects? The stimulus is supposed to work across many sectors, not one. Predictive models are historically unreliable when it comes to job creation; the bill funds projects far and wide, near-term and long for a reason. […]

Why didn’t a single House Republican vote for the recovery package? One high-ranking congressional aide opined to the Huffington Post, “It wasn’t because of family planning funds or preserving the National Mall or whatever Rush Limbaugh and Drudge’s talking points were. It’s because this legislation is the clearest repudiation of Bush and Congressional Republican economic policies yet.”

It is, in a way, a public relations coup that the stimulus has been boiled down to, as one Hill Democrat puts it, “funding for the arts, funding for the mall, and funding to fight AIDS.” Those aspects of the legislation, as the White House points out, constitute a mere 7/100th of one percent of the entire package. Moreover, the size of the legislation is not even the most pertinent topic of debate. For many economists, the issue isn’t whether the stimulus is too large, but whether it goes far enough in producing a new economic structure instead of patching up the old one.

The authors of the legislation emphasized a point we used to hear more from the White House: this spending package is intended to offer stimulative benefits and lay the groundwork for future gains.

So, for example, when the bill includes $6.7 billion for renovations and repairs to federal buildings, it creates jobs for those doing the work, and it saves the government in the future because current buildings haven’t been weatherized. When the bill includes $2 billion in Head Start and Early Head Start funding, it creates educations jobs, and it pays dividends with long-term benefits to students. When the bill invests a $2.6 billion in advanced battery technology research and development, it creates engineering jobs, and it pays dividends in energy costs, U.S. manufacturing, and a competitive edge.

The other theme is that the Bush years have left the country’s economy in such disrepair that legislators are required to think big. This is true on a broad level, where the middle class saw its purchasing power drastically diminished as their income remained stagnant. But is also true in a micro sense. Part of the reason the stimulus devotes so much to school renovation, an aide said, is because “there were pretty much no investments made in this area under the Bush administration… The only direct funding came in the form of emergency assistance in the gulf areas, after Katrina.”

And so, Democrats who crafted the stimulus found themselves in a bind: forced to patch up the bruises of the Bush years with an eye towards creating a new economic system entirely. Whether they can thread that needle is a topic of serious debate. But it is one they take more seriously than the complaints being lobbed by Republican critics.

“We cannot move forward without understanding what created this crisis,” said Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel. “This recovery package is the beginning of a longer-term investment in America’s middle class, our small businesses, health care, renewable energy technologies and a new infrastructure to reinvigorate our economy so that American workers and businesses can compete and win in the 21st Century.”

Where have these arguments been the past few weeks? Might any of these authors be available to, you know, go on television or something?