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Senate "cutters" adding spending they like, removing programs they don't

Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are leading a small group of centrist Senators which, reportedly, is trying to cut the stimulus by about $100 billion. Supposedly, they feel the stimulus is too large. But according to a memo obtained by The Plum Line, they're also adding in some items as well.


Photo by John&Julie C on Flickr.

According to the memo, they hope to cut $3.4 billion from public transit, but at the same time, are adding in more money for "additional transportation funding." Presumably, if they're cutting transit, that additional funding would go to roads. (It might be airports, I suppose, but I doubt it.)

They're also cutting such items as Head Start, food stamps, child nutrition, firefighters, COPS hiring, NASA, and the CDC, while adding funding for defense operations and procurement.

The Senators reportedly in the room are Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Begich (D-AK), Tom Carper (D-DE), John Tester (D-MT), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Jim Webb (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Udall (D-CO), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Mel Martinez (R-FL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and George Voinovich (R-OH). We don't know if all of them support these cuts or not (Carper is a big rail advocate, for example).

This group seemed to be trying to take the mantle of the "responsible" people limiting the stimulus' excess. Of course, many economists think the stimulus is, if anything, not large enough. If it is to shrink, we should cut those items that won't spend the money right away. Those of you in defense can correct me if I'm wrong, but any new defense spending would end up going to projects pretty far down the road. Meanwhile, giving poor families food stamps and hiring more police can be spent right away.

Few people actually believed Collins, Nelson, and the rest of this "gang" were trying to actually be responsible spenders. It's clear, now, that they aren't even trying to make it look that way.

Update: The Senate just approved an amendment from Tom Coburn (R-OK) that prohibits using any stimulus money on any "any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project." How, exactly, does Coburn know that spending on a zoo, park, theater or highway beautification doesn't stimulate the economy, while all the other crap in the bill does?

Call your Senators. Especially those of you who live in Virginia.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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This is AMERICA SPEAKING. We are getting sick and tried of all the bullshit coming out of Wasington. This is NOT a stimulus plan, it should just be about us the American people and not pay backs. I lost my job with a lot of other people and no one worried about us. WE paid our bills and got by without your so called help. Quit taking care of people that look for a free handouts and don't want to work. There is more pig shit in this bill than pork. Why must a Stimulus Bill be 600 pages long? I watched Obama sign the health care bill for the kids by putting a higer tax on cigarette's. Then in the Stimulus plan there is 4 BILLION to help people quit smoking. Now do you want the smokers to keep smoking to pay for the health plan or to stop so there is no money going into the health plan. All of you should grab your ears and pull real hard to get your head out of where ever it is.

by clifton t wilder on Feb 6, 2009 3:45 pm • linkreport

The Defense Department can't justify its spending even with the phony war-on-innocent-people-over-there-oh-and-people-in-caves stuff, so in the face of someone asking the question, "What does the Defense Dapartment do, again?", they're asking for more funding.

The Pentagon system and these wars are ruining us. Time to cut that budget.

Defense spending is inherently wasteful and destructive -- more butter, less guns.

by Peter on Feb 6, 2009 3:53 pm • linkreport

I think there's a close italics tag missing.

by Steve on Feb 6, 2009 4:37 pm • linkreport

Aargh, I keep doing that. Sorry!

by David Alpert on Feb 6, 2009 4:43 pm • linkreport

The tone of this blog over the past few weeks has seemed to veer away from the political (in the broadest sense of the word) to the partisan. Obviously, how we organize our streets, our cities, and our lives are political issues that are frequently adjudicated by our government. But the specific composition of the stimulus package is much more partisan - two sides fighting for prestige. Adding to the rhetoric isn't helpful, as I think you can see by the first two comments.

This is a stimulus package, not this year's federal budget. No one is proposing cuts to "Head Start, food stamps, child nutrition, firefighters, COPS hiring, NASA, and the CDC." All we're talking about here is additional money that these agencies/programs/goals could possibly spend quickly. Most of the agencies/programs/goals above are characterized by a large bureaucracy that would take a long time to actually spend the money. In most cases, that's a very good thing; we don't want NASA or the CDC or Head Start to approach their jobs with haste; we want them to be careful and deliberate so they can get things right the first time. There are obviously some exceptions, WIC and Food Stamps are ideal candidates for stimulus as there is an existing infrastructure in place (physical deliveries of food in the case of WIC, debit cards in the case of Food Stamps) that could be scaled up tomorrow if we wanted. Those must be a vehicle for stimulus in any package.

You could make an argument that shoring up the operating budgets of transit agencies also meets that standard. I happen to agree. But when it comes down to it, most of the money has to be targeted, timely, and temporary. Most of these road projects are turn lanes or road resurfacing that will stimulate the construction and manufacturing industries this summer. This is the sort of time-frame we're looking at, in fact, many of the projects are supposed to start 90 days after the bill is signed. Everyone knows that most capital projects in transit agencies take forever; we've been planning the Silver and Purple lines for decades and still haven't broken ground.

WMATA did submit a request for shovel-ready projects, things that it could start in 90 days or more; it was about $500 million if memory serves. But shovel-ready isn't our only goal, we want to actually spend the money this year, next only if necessary, and nothing at all by 2011. The trouble is, much of its requests were for things like new rail cars. Sure, we can order them tomorrow, but they'll take years to deliver. A turn-lane is simple, you clear some land, dig it up, lay some pavement, and you're done.

Obviously new cars for Metro would help the region much more than a hundred new turn lanes, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're putting together a stimulus package, not next year's budget, not an infrastructure bill. Keynes's idea of a stimulus package was hiring one crew of workers to dig some holes, and a second crew to fill them back in. The GOAL is to waste money. If we happen to get something useful, that's wonderful - a pleasant surprise. Let's stay focused on the goal here, let's win the argument that transit is useful, that in the long-term, not just next year, we should prefer building a new metro line to a new highway. The stimulus package isn't Christmas morning, it's shoveling money out the door as fast as we possibly can.

by JohnOfCharleston on Feb 6, 2009 4:59 pm • linkreport

Apropos of nothing, I just came across a book at work that may interest readers here:

"Train to the plane or money down the drain : an analysis of the economic impact of the JFK rail-link"

by Steve on Feb 6, 2009 5:05 pm • linkreport

No offense but this, "They're also cutting such items as Head Start, food stamps, child nutrition, firefighters, COPS hiring, NASA, and the CDC, while adding funding for defense operations and procurement." has no business in a stimulus bill. Labor intensive projects ready to go are what we need.

I can easily see DoD funding working as a good stimulus- a contract to build x amount of new fighter jets. Hire people to build the jets, the parts that go into the jets, support work, etc. It actually seems like the ideal project.

However, I also want to note that there's quite a bit of disagreement amoung economists over whether or not the stimulus is a good thing.

by mafiosa on Feb 6, 2009 5:27 pm • linkreport

Peter is absolutely correct, except don't call it "defense" spending, rather call it what it really is: "offense" spending.

Too bad that so many fall for such distractions as transit OR highways, when we really need both.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 6, 2009 7:04 pm • linkreport

This article argues that building infrastructure might not have much of a payoff. Interestingly, it essentially says that the standard idea of big-chunk spending, what everyone seems to agree is the only kind of thing that is not pork, might not work everywhere, that massive programs may just cause temporary job growth that offers no new skills to those employed as laborers.

Which brings me to the next question (as the bill is finalized, yes, whatever): why not more spending on physical improvements to local facilities, as they did in the Great Depression? For example, physical reconstruction of public schools, something that would bring jobs to virtually every locality and create lasting improvements for schools.

It's a lot of small projects that might open up other opportunities for permanent job creation. Besides, having a clean, working building for schools could only enhance civic pride and would probably make a lot of impoverished kids think someone cares about them a little.

by цarьchitect on Feb 6, 2009 9:32 pm • linkreport

What does the stimulus package provide for D.C. area transport infrastructure?

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 6, 2009 10:42 pm • linkreport

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