Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked Democrats from adding $25 billion for highways, mass transit, and water projects to President Barack Obama’s economic recovery program.
Already unhappy over the size of the measure, Republicans insisted additional infrastructure projects be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the bill.
But the Democratic amendment garnered 58 votes, just shy of the supermajority needed under Senate budget rules, and many more efforts to increase the measure’s size are sure to follow.
Wait a second, I thought Republicans were saying that there wasn't enough infrastructure spending in the bill. First they want more, then there's too much. Yes, that's the distinct smell of obstructionism you're detecting. We know Republicans couldn't possibly be that picky or they never would've nominated George W. Bush.
So, what gives? Don't Republicans want a stimulus package to get the economy back on track?
The simple answer is no, they do not.
Monday, Republicans put out a list of what they said was wasteful spending in the stimulus bill. Some of it could be seen as unnecessary -- a "$246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film" and "$150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities" seem like things that either don't need to be done or that could be addressed in separate bills -- but most of this "wasteful spending" doesn't seem wasteful at all. Here are a few examples of the "wasteful spending" in the stimulus:
- $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
- $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
- $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
- $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
- $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
- $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
- $500 million for state and local fire stations.
One example of this "waste" is Constitutionally mandated -- the census. Congress has no choice but to fund it. There's much, much more, but you get the idea. The Republican list of "wasteful spending" is padded.
But I said that Republicans don't want the stimulus to work. It certainly explains why the list is padded -- it's a rationalization for their opposition. But why wouldn't they want this to work?
The last time Republicans found themselves in a similar situation -- an economy in ruins and a Democratic president with a plan to fix it -- they found themselves on the outs with the public for about two decades. The Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal nearly destroyed the Republican party. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and an economic journalist, explains:
[For Republicans, the] lesson of the New Deal policies is that it left the Democrats firmly in power for more than 20 years. The Republicans did not regain the White House until 1952, 20 years after President Roosevelt was first elected.
Imagine how terrifying the prospect of 20 years of Democratic presidencies must be for the current generation of Republican leaders. This would mean that they would not retake the White House until 2028, just 20 years before the Social Security trust fund is first projected to face a shortfall.
In 2028, Newt Gingrich will be 85 years old; Mitt Romney will be 81; Mike Huckabee will be 73 and Senator McCain will be 98. Even Sarah Palin will be a less than youthful 64. In short, if President-elect Obama is allowed to carry through with his stimulus package and the rest of his ambitious domestic agenda, most of current leadership of the Republican Party can expect to spend the rest of their political career in the political wilderness, far removed from the centers of power.
"For this reason, the Republicans can be expected to adopt a strategy aimed at delaying and diluting the stimulus," he tells us. "We can expect their leaders to find every conceivable argument to slow down the spending that the economy desperately needs right now to prevent further job loss." Success for America means disaster for the GOP. No wonder Rush Limbaugh said he hoped Obama fails.
So, if you're a Republican, you draw up a list of items that can -- by an extreme stretch of reasoning -- be called wasteful, then you add up the amount of all this "waste," and go on talking head shows to say that "the Democrats have included $X worth of pork in this bill. We must all freak out now." Cable news shows have segments measured in minutes and seconds, there's no way you'll be asked to itemize everything you're calling pork. If you do it this way, you can get away with it. The people on the TV machine just don't have the time it takes to get to the truth.
The progress of the stimulus bill is coming as close to stalled as it's likely to be. And that's just the way Republicans want it. They don't want a solution, because the problem serves them very well.