What's most suprising is how long it took Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to come out and say this about the proposed stimulus legislation, and how tepid his demands are:
“A trillion-dollar spending bill would be the largest spending bill in the history of our country at a time when our national debt is already the largest in history,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. “As a result, it will require tough scrutiny and oversight. Taxpayers, already stretched to the limit, deserve nothing less.”
McConnell called for giving lawmakers and the public at least one week to review the legislation once it has been written. He also said he wanted Senate committee hearings on the measure, rather than immediate floor consideration.
As this article on the same subject notes, neither McConnell nor Republican House Leader John Boehner has come out in direct opposition of the bill. Rather, they'd like to posture about wasteful spending, likely in an attempt to obtain concessions that include wasteful spending on their own priorities or to try and force more of the stimulus into tax cut schemes. McConnell's staff is now gathering news reports of local officials mentioning projects they'd like stimulus funding for that don't seem entirely legit, even though it's unclear exactly how funding from the stimulus bill will be allocated, and it's already been promised that there will be no earmarks in the legislation. I wonder if this is a bad time to remind McConnell that he ran for reelection promising "deliver huge amounts of federal money" for the Bluegrass State. Don't bite the hand that feeds, Mitch!
Obama is apparently looking to create a consensus bill that will capture 80 votes in the Senate. It's a good goal at the outset but I have a hard time imagining any kind of substantial stimulus bill in the range economists suggest is necessary will be able to garner that much support among Republicans. On the other hand, the TARP bailout bill passed 74-25, so with six more Senate seats in hand on the Democratic side it's not impossible to imagine maintaining the same coalition for the new legislation. While the stimulus proposal is less controversial than the TARP bailout, since it has more consensus among economists and isn't seen as a handout to Wall Street, it also will come to the floor in a much less panicked atmosphere. That could make it easier for obstructionists at a time when we really needed this stimulus package to be passed months ago.
Meanwhile, in the House, Boehner may be ready to capitulate, but the conservative cadre -- with folks like Mike Pence, Jeff Flake and Jeb Hensarling in the lead -- will likely oppose the bill (with little avail, the House being the majoritarian institution that it is). But the question is whether their theatrical arguments -- see this fine story by Eve Fairbanks -- will catch on at all among the public at large. It seems unlikely, especially if Christmas consumer spending reports continue to be dismal, and the next set of unemployment numbers once again exceeds expectations.
-- Tim Fernholz
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