Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Revisiting The Stimulus

It seems likelier by the day that the Recovery Act--the stimulus bill--was insufficient for the job it was meant to do. If events continue to point in that direction, President Obama and his economic team bear responsibility for thinking too small, and then accepting a package from Congress that was even smaller.

But while the President deserves criticism for flawed policy formulation and execution (and for his recent efforts to massage the ugly facts rather than confront them) it's worth recalling that he had some powerful enablers. And Sen. Collins was just about chief among them.

Remember, Collins was one of a handful of "swing votes" whose support was necessary to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster of the legislation. And she was one of just two senators who worked publicly and assiduously (if often incoherently) to shrink the bill.

And the junior senator was very successful: Her deal making resulted in $86 billion in cuts, including billions in cuts to law enforcement grants, education funding, surface transportation programs and--infamously--pandemic flu preparedness dollars. She also voted against an extra $25 billion in highway, mass transit, water and sewer spending. And along the way, she permitted billions to be cut from LIHEAP and home weatherization programs.

(One upshot of Collins' tireless efforts and tough bargaining? Hundreds of millions of dollars less for Maine.)

There are plenty of towns that would have benefited from a few more repaved roads and a couple of extra cops on the beat. But the funds Collins was able to cut wouldn't have just bolstered the nation's infrastructure and put money in the pockets of workers. They would have also stabilized communities and boosted confidence.

Today the economy is weaker--and more Americans remain out of work--because that spending never happened.

Again, the ultimate fault lies with the President, who accepted the deal Collins and others were offering. He could certainly have worked harder to twist arms. Or he could have taken his case to the American people, the citizens of Maine, etc.

But it's clearer than ever that, when it came to the stimulus debate, the junior senator was someone who should have been resisted rather than accommodated.

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