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Is a Good Enough Stimulus Good Enough?

February 15, 2009

Seems like the 787 billion dollar American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus package Congress has passed and sent to the President's desk is just good enough. Though notable for its size, it doesn't advance bold initiatives that could define Obama's presidency, nor does it grapple with big, confounding issues like universal health care. It's incremental rather than transformational. But it's good enough to mind-shift us into a more optimistic view of the short term economy and to offer real help to many hurt by the downturn. (If you want a quick look at how we're going to spend 787 billion, see this chart. That sounds like "real money", but it's amazing how quickly it goes when you break it down--well, incrementally. For a more detailed summary, the Center for Law and Social Policy provides descriptions and tables with estimated state-by-state impacts of key provisions. Read that full report here.) Though many economists say the package isn't big enough, and feminists wonder whether it does enough to build the human infrastructure, Republicans are predictably squealing it's too big and too diffuse. This despite all the effort Obama went to to engage and appease his Republican colleagues. I thought by now he would have learned the hooker principle (get paid first) and not have expended so much political capital trying to win over those who want only to create campaign issues with which to wrest back Congressional seats in 2010 and take the White House away from him in 2012. (Remember Newt and the Contract on America in 1994?) I mean, caving to objections over a simple provision to reduce bureaucracy for states wanting to expand their Medicaid family planning programs was simply gratuitous political theater with a high ticket price. He has now framed birth control as "controversial", despite its approved and usage by over 90% of Americans, and this will come back to haunt him when women's groups start pushing him to deliver on promised family planning legislation such as the Prevention First Act. But then, where were the women's groups who should have stopped this silliness in the first place? They were with everyone else on the progressive to middle political scale, cutting Obama the slack a new president deserves, especially during crisis times. On the plus side for Obama, perceptions about a leader's prowess have as much to do with timing and the cushion of good will with which he/she is surrounded upon ascending to office as with actual performance. He's riding high in the polls, and George Bush left things so bad that, with the exception of the Limbaugh-like loyalists, almost everyone is grateful for any forward movement. Surely, this stimulus package is an important step forward, and it was accomplished with alacrity during the dawning days of the new administration. It shores up, pumps us, cheers up. It's going to give relief to many low-and moderate-income families and help states avert drastic shortfalls in their budgets while saving major institutions. These are not small matters. But courageous leadership isn't just incremental. The New Deal was transformational. It changed government structure while building national infrastructure. Obama was swept into office in large part because voters saw him as a visionary who could transform and take the nation to qualitatively greater heights. So let us give great credit to him for leading Congress and public opinion to embrace the current economic stimulus. That's good enough for starters. But onward now to universal health care, world class education, green and clean energy self-sufficiency, global leadership in women's equality and human rights, and technological and scientific innovation that will fuel the next economic boom. http:/