Arbitrary standards

ARBITRARY STANDARDS…. Last week, when the Senate’s Republican “centrists” decided it was time to shrink the size of the stimulus package, they announced their intention to cut $100 billion. It wasn’t because they saw $100 billion in spending they thought to be wasteful; they just thought the plan should be smaller, and $100 billion seemed like a good number.

It reinforced the notion that some lawmakers were approaching the policy debate in a recklessly arbitrary way. It wasn’t about identifying what the economy needs and crafting a policy to match, it was about the capricious whims of fickle lawmakers who wanted a bill, as long as it wasn’t too big or too aggressive or too ambitious. The standards for each were frustratingly vague.

To reinforce the point, Ezra Klein found this gem:

In driving down the total cost of the stimulus bill — from $838 billion approved by the Senate and $820 by the House — legislators also sharply reduced proposed tax incentives for buyers of homes and cars that held huge public appeal. Senator Collins said getting the final number to under $800 billion was more than symbolic; it meant “a fiscally responsible number,” she said.

I wish I knew what that means. Negotiators agreed on a $789 billion economic stimulus plan. Is $790 billion a “fiscally responsible number”? How about $795 billion? Or $800 billion?

Collins’ quote reminds me a bit of Adrian Monk caring more about whether the number is 10 than whether the number is right.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.