Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are the marquis names leading the bipartisan negotiations on the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the Senate. The past two weeks have seen Republican House and Senate members on the floor and talk-show circuit pointing out every nickle and dime of purportedly wasteful, non-stimulus spending. Sadly (and typically), Democrat leaders in Congress did not meet fire with fire, missing the opportunity to take control of the media message and to explain why Pell Grants and pregnancy prevention programs and the Census matter for economic vitality.
Obama screwed up, too. Rahm Emanuel might have been representing the Administration’s interests in the negotiations, but where was our leader? He paid millions upon millions of dollars to reserve 30 minutes of primetime television when he was campaigning, but as president he couldn’t get on the tube now, when it is free (!!!), to discuss what spending in the bill means with pie charts and emotive stock photos of workers and families?
As frustrating as Obama’s low profile has been, though, there might be a silver lining. For the first time in eight years, Congress has actually been able to act like … Congress. There has been lively debate. Yes, the party lines are still there (as we can all attest by the headlines we read and the soundbites we hear), but there has also been plenty of substance. Congress had to battle this out; after all, they are the branch solely responsible for drafting and passing legislation, notwithstanding Darth Cheney and his “mini me,” W.
The changes negotiated on Friday by the bipartisan group of senators are available here. (It’s in an Excel spreadsheet.) Admittedly, the appropriations are described in generalities, but some points worth noting …
- The Census retains its $1,000,000,000 in funding. Many Republicans had gone apeshit on this appropriation, saying its stimulus benefit was questionable (even though the Census hires droves of people). Actually Republicans don’t like it because their districts don’t do well every 10 years when the Census counts all the brown and black and poor and sick and unemployed people.
- The $79 billion originally set to go to the states with no strings attached is reduced to $39 billion. In the net, I believe this change is acceptable. I know states are hurting, and I didn’t like the Republican argument that the money would just be used to fill budget gaps, not to stimulate the economy. (Um, when people are able to keep their jobs, the economy is helped.) Nonetheless, I also know there is a lot of room for abuse and mismanagement. Case in point: Los Angeles and its precipitous decline in home owning, middle-class residents on one hand and the drastic loss of affordable housing for lower income groups on the other; the city lacks a cohesive vision for business and industry development. The city can benefit from funds, of course, but those funds have to administered as part of larger programs.
- Science comes out pretty well. According to ScienceDebate2008.com, research agencies will see a boost of $6.6 billion in funding, including $1.2 billion to the NSF and $2.65 billion to renewable-energy R&D.
- K-12 new-school construction is axed, but the Pell Grant program will receive $13.87 billion.
Haggling ensues, but NYT reports the bill (with Friday’s changes) will pass.
UPDATE: When I say Obama can reserve “free” T.V. time, I, of course, mean free to him. The networks lose advertising dollars when they preempt their regularly scheduled broadcasts. Nonetheless, Obama still ought to speak to the country, and, apparently, he IS planning to do just that.