The ‘modest’ differences

THE ‘MODEST’ DIFFERENCES…. Sitting alongside the Republican vice chairman of the National Governors Association this morning, President Obama said policymakers can’t “let very modest differences get in the way of the overall [stimulus] package moving forward swiftly.”

How “modest”? The White House added some details to this in its press briefing. Sam Stein reports:

Underscoring the reality that GOP opposition to the stimulus seems firmly entrenched, the Obama administration mounted a more aggressive stance in favor of the recovery package, stating on Monday that there is little time left for quibbling.

“Delay in this town may not mean much,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs. “But delay in America means that the help the American people need right now won’t get there as quickly as they need it to.”

Gibbs stressed on several occasion that the areas of difference between the president and Republicans in Congress were minor, noting that if one accumulated the spending provisions that the GOP objected to you would get $669 million, or “7/100ths of 1 percent of a piece of legislation.”

It’s a point worth considering in more detail. Last week, when House Republicans were expressing their unanimous opposition to an economic rescue package, they got at least somewhat specific about the spending they saw as “wasteful.” According to a McClatchy article, GOP lawmakers had identified $5.89 billion it wanted to see removed from the legislation. According to a list put together by the office of a House GOP lawmaker, the figure was even lower than that: $3.51 billion.

We’re talking about an $819 billion spending package. Putting aside the merit of the provisions Republicans found offensive, and putting aside the obvious fact that $5 billion is a lot of money, we’re nevertheless left with a mathematical truth: the minority party voted en masse against a rescue package during a recession due to differences that amounted to well under 1% of the bill’s cost.

As Josh Marshall noted, “The pretty simple fact here is that the Republicans are not willing or able to criticize any of the substantial amounts of spending in this bill. They’re focusing on a few tiny parts of it.”

Now, to be fair, this is primarily about the objections of House Republicans. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, aren’t cherry-picking isolated expenditures for complaints — they don’t even like the idea of the bill currently under consideration. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters today his caucus wants a “dramatically different” package, and Republicans are trying to “reform” the legislation.

And what would “reform” look like? A $713 billion package, of which $430 billion dollars is devoted to tax cuts.

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