Thursday, February 25, 2010

i can't see! where is it? where am i?

The art of politics and the doing of the doing.

It’s taken some time rehashing and doctoring this up to get there to a point at which I’m happy enough with it. You may want to bail out right now; if you don't, you'll be here for a bit.

I guess the three main things I’m driving at are voter inattention (polling data now vs. later), the amount of time and money needed to get things done, and the endless methodology of not actually doing anything because you’re in a bad mood.

First of all, the mid-term elections are still 8-9 months away and what’s become clear to me about American politics, and the fickle voter, is that nothing beyond two months stays in our head. Screaming about the healthcare overhaul? Gone. The “you lie” moment? Gone. Tea Partiers? Nearly gone. Granted, some issues are bigger than others but we don’t care to remember any once the latest Palin, Cheney, or Holder misstep or battle pops up. By the time we hit the September – November 2010timeframe I suspect things will have changed for the better; and by better I mean the economy. Not only am I comfortable that it will happen but I need some time and space to clear up a few issues, issues that fall in tandem, that bother me.

First, the stimulus package that got everyone so riled up last year. I think I brought it up a bit back then but it’s worth a look back at the money and bill. You can take a look at the stimulus tracking Web site or the WaPo breakdown if you want exact numbers (or go to any site you trust). A key provision of the bill was that the distribution of the benefits was scheduled for the out years; 2010-2014 being on the table. The point of that delayed gratification was to allow us to put on the brakes and steady the landing before moving money into others areas over time in order to prevent a back slide. So far, only about $200B of the nearly $800B has been distributed. I’d venture to guess that 95% of Americans think the entire $800B is gone and lost by now. When Japan was battling this same type of collapse in the 1990s they made the mistake of funding recovery and then backing off – it tumbled even deeper at that point – and then re-funding. And stopping. And re-funding. It ended up worse in the end because there was no long-term commitment by the government and the people. The delayed investment plan will work throughout this year and by the autumn things will be more stable and the public will see the benefits; and long forgotten this idea of turning over any portion of governing to those who refuse to govern. What about the unemployment rate? That’ll take awhile longer, as should be expected. Unemployment is a lagging indicator on the way down and it’s still a lagging indicator, on the way up, during any recovery. Considering that it was discussed endlessly during the collapse as a lagging indicator, I’m surprised how mental everyone is that it’s coming back so slowly: we knew that would happen. It’ll be two years before we see the unemployment numbers drop back down to 6% or 7% - call it the nature of the beast.

Second thing: the recovery/stimulus package and cutting taxes vs. spending. You can dig around for yourself but know that 22% of the entire package (per the CBO; the % is in the 30s by other accounts) was strictly tax cuts. There is additional spending, as was/is needed, but when one party wants tax cuts and another wants increased spending to fix a problem you can’t get everything you want in a bill; the pie only cuts in so many ways. The party in charge is going to get more of what they want and that’s the compromise part; not to mention the election and democracy part. Nobody who’s against the current process would even think to point out that tax cuts were part of the stimulus because it would merely expose them for the lost souls they are. The Republicans simply voted against it because they refuse to actually do anything, at all. (No Republican member of the House voted for it, three senators did: Specter, PA; Snowe and Collins, ME)

This brings us to the ‘jobs bill’ that was passed in the Senate last week and which really triggered this entry that’s killing you to read. It still needs to be reconciled with the House version but the real kicker is that the Republicans and Harry Reid watered it down to almost nothing in order to get some support and it ended up being a $15B bill that will provide, per the CBO, about 250,000 jobs. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot but for those 250,000 folks it’s important. The kicker? Nearly the entire bill ($13B) is tax cuts. Employers who hire unemployed workers are exempt from payroll taxes until the end of the year and will also receive a $1,000 bonus if the employee is still there after one year. Let’s break this down: tax cuts to employers in order to allow them to hire more people, folks getting off the unemployment rolls and off the socialist agenda, and more money into the economy via their new dollars to spend. Sound familiar? Sound like Republican talking points? Certainly. And how many voted for it? Five of 41 (Brown, MA; Snowe and Collins, ME; Voinovich, OH; Bond, MO). What does it mean? It means that we are continuing to see the Republicans selling a bill of goods that is directly opposed to what they say out of the other side of their mouths and it’s killing our government. If those five moderates didn’t actually vote for what they stand for (lower taxes, getting folks back to work, etc.) then we’d still have absolutely zero from the Capitol and it’s mostly propped on the laps of the Republicans. No one can actually take people like Boehner or McConnell seriously. They yell and scream about tax cuts but when you give them tax cuts they stick their heads and sand and do nothing. Are they going to get every thing they want? Not a chance. As Sen. Lindsey Graham said during the Sotomayor hearings: we had an election and the results matters.

I also don’t want to wander to far away from my massive disappointment in the leadership of Congress. I find both Reid and Pelosi to be lacking in shepherding legislation through the two chambers: if I could choose, I’d look elsewhere. Even with a massive majority they’ve been unable – Reid, in particular – to rally forces and votes to move business through the Senate. The run-up to the summer recess is going to be the stretch run for the fall elections and those months need to be used to lay the groundwork and continur the progress we’ve made so far. If you don’t think anything’s been done then you don’t actually follow events.

Lastly, on the budget and the deficit. I’m sure we all know that the funding for the war on terrorism wasn’t actually funded via normal budgetary methods from 2001-2008 (it wasn't reported as deficit spending but it sure is now). Funny that. After the budgets for defense were approved every year, the Administration used emergency funding to come up with nearly $500B for GWOT between 2001-2007. “By 2007, roughly 25 percent of all of the resources coming into Defense were coming through the emergency funding "window."” (Another $142B was emergency funded in FY2008.) By my tally that’s about $650B over eight years that wasn’t included in any annual budget. (The Heritage Foundation says it’s closer to $800B from 2002-2008 – you should read the whole piece if you have time). By contrast, the recently signed $626B defense budget for 2010 includes monies for both basic defense spending and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (whose costs have not been budgeted for the last nine years.) In the end, we’ll pay for the $650B in emergency funding – it’s a part of the debt; something that’s rarely followed – but it was never reflected as deficit spending while it was happening; convenient, that is.

As Coates said just today at his site, “In all of us, there are strong motives for not thinking. Just getting through the day as tax-paying, spouse-loving, child-rearing adult is hard enough.” True that. True that.

I think my readership will probably drop to zero after this...

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