Stimulus Talk

By Dan Froomkin
12:25 PM ET, 02/11/2009

The presidential motorcade wended its way to suburban Virginia this morning, stopping at the construction site for the final segment of the Fairfax County Parkway so President Obama could make a pitch for infrastructure spending.

"Look around us," Obama said. "Look at this construction site right where we're standing. We're surrounded by unmet needs and unfinished business -- in our schools, in our roads, in the systems we employ to treat the sick, in the energy we use to power our homes. And that's the core of my plan: putting people to work doing the work that America needs done.

"We're here today because there's a lot of work that needs to be done on our nation's congested roads and highways, crumbling bridges and levees, and crowded trains and transit systems. Because we know that with investment, we can create transportation and communications systems ready for the demands of the 21st century -- and because we also know what happens when we fail to make those investments."

Meanwhile, White House and Congressional negotiators worked furiously to resolve differences between the House and Senate stimulus packages.

David M. Herszenhorn and Jeff Zeleny write in the New York Times: "Congressional leaders moved quickly into intense negotiations with the Obama administration on Tuesday after the Senate voted to approve an $838 billion economic stimulus plan, and officials said the talks were on a fast track to finish the legislation perhaps by the end of this week.

"In a sign of their determination to reconcile the differences between the Senate bill and the $820 billion House version swiftly, the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and the budget director, Peter R. Orszag, huddled at the Capitol on Tuesday evening with Speaker Nancy Pelosi; the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada; and other lawmakers....

"Administration officials said that one priority would be to restore Mr. Obama’s middle-class tax cut to its original size. The Senate, trying to lower the cost of the plan, had trimmed it by more than $2 billion."

Greg Hitt and Jonathan Weisman write in the Wall Street Journal: "The White House is seeking to restore funding cut by the Senate for schools, health insurance and computerizing health records as the economic-stimulus plan headed into a final round of negotiations in Congress, with top lawmakers struggling to bring the price of the two-year package down to $800 billion....

"As lawmakers meet to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the legislation, the White House's effort to reshape it is leading to skirmishes among House and Senate Democrats, as well as with the moderate Republicans and Democrats who pushed to cut the size of the original Senate package....

"To make room for added spending, the White House, joined by House Democratic leaders, is pressing to scale back certain Senate-passed tax breaks, including measures intended to boost auto and home sales.

"White House officials said they can hold on to support for the package, even if spending is increased as a share of the total plan. 'We don't think it's that precarious,' one administration official said."

But David S. Broder writes in The Washington Post that Vice President Biden yesterday "signaled that the administration may try again this week to make the bill more palatable to at least some in the GOP."

James Oliphant writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Once a final deal is struck, the bill has to pass both houses of Congress again. That means that the legislation must satisfy a variety of voting blocs: the moderate Republicans in the Senate who broke with the party to ensure the bill's passage, the conservative Democrats in the House who may favor elements of the Senate bill, and more liberal members of the House who don't want to see the bill's commitments to funding for state budgets and education sacrificed."

The Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Anne E. Kornblut address Obama's use of a straw-man argument. (See this post from yesterday.)

"President Obama likes to portray the battle over the economic stimulus package that passed the Senate on Tuesday as a stark choice between his approach and that of those who would 'do nothing.'" Shear and Kornblut write.

"But in truth, few of those involved in the stimulus debate are suggesting that the government should not take action to aid the cratering economy.

"Many of the president's fiercest congressional critics support a stimulus package of similar size but think it should be built around a much higher proportion of tax cuts than new spending. Others have called for a plan that is half the size of the one headed for a House-Senate conference -- still massive by historical standards."

That said, Obama is on much safer ground saying that, practically speaking, the choice in Washington has come down to one between passage of his plan and doing nothing -- at least for now.

And in his interview with ABC News's Terry Moran yesterday, Obama more specifically addressed the critics of his stimulus plan -- calling their arguments incoherent and petty.

"You've got some folks who say, 'well, it doesn't spend out fast enough. That's why it's not stimulative. But by the way, we'd like to see more infrastructure spending.' Well, it turns out that infrastructure spending provides terrific stimulus to an economy but most infrastructure projects may take three, four, five years to move forward.

"There's some folks who complain that, you know, things like investing in energy efficiency for federal buildings or automobile fleets is a, you know, government program. Well, actually, there's no reason why if you're creating jobs, we might not as well save taxpayers $2 billion in potential energy costs every year....

"So some of these arguments just haven't been real coherent. And you know, where there are good ideas for very effective job creation, I've adopted them....

"But most of -- for the most part, they haven't really been making those arguments. What they've been doing is picking the 1 or 2 percent of the entire package that fell in the category of policy and then just going after that, ignoring the fact that 98 percent of the package is exactly the kind of stimulus that people would want."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company