What the Cuts to the Stimulus Mean, In Real Terms

Everyone is still trying to get a handle on what got cut from the stimulus bill as a small group of centrist senators worked toward the compromise bill that will likely be voted on this evening. CNN has a pretty good list supplied by a Democratic staffer, but while some of it is specific ("$1 billion for Head Start/Early Start," "$200 million for National Science Foundation"), some of it is laughably not so ("$100 million for science"). What is clear is that emergency funding for states that are seeing looming budget crises got cut big time, a development that Paul Krugman calls "really, really bad." Krugman estimates that the Senate compromise bill will create 600,000 fewer jobs than the House version. Firedoglake runs the numbers and comes up with their own estimate here. Ryan Grim, writing in the Huffington Post, checks win with a bunch of economists and figures out why the danger of not spending enough is far, far greater than the danger of spending too much.

As for that cut in state funding, I want to make sure everyone knows what it means in concrete terms. Here is the LA Times:

Plant/Krauss, Coldplay Big Winners at Grammys

Oh, the many ironies of life on the West Coast: we're mocked as hippies even though we all have cars, people imagine us frolicking on the beach when it's actually 45 degrees and raining, and awards ceremonies, even though they're taking place in our time zone, are tape-delayed three hours for us, so we can finish our dinners. This does mean that we can look on the interwebs and see the winners before they even start, though, which is nice. Of course, it turns out that my predictions were pretty much wrong: I apparently had a brief moment of naïve optimism that the Grammys would suddenly start honoring what are truly the best songs of the year, and not whatever artist has the greatest name recognition amongst a bunch of 60-year-olds. Silly me. While I held out 50% of my hope that M.I.A. might pull out an upset in the record of the year category, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss won for "Please Read the Letter." Live-blogging the ceremony, the New York Times' Jon Caramanica had an amusing observation: perhaps, in 30 years, Animal Collective might arouse the same nostalgic feelings that Led Zeppelin do now, but somehow I doubt it. Krauss and Plant also picked up album of the year, over my pick of Radiohead—I guess my thinking was that Grammy voters would acknowledge both In Rainbows' sheer musical triumph and its status as an industry-changing event, but nope, they did not.

Tax Cuts

TAX CUTS....Matt Yglesias on the stimulus bill:

It strikes me as indefensible that a stimulus package featuring hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts doesn’t include any FICA provisions. Payroll tax cuts wouldn’t be my first choice of stimulus measures, but there’s a strong case for including some tax-side measures in the package and they’d probably be my first choice of tax cuts to include.

Agreed, but isn't the $500/$1000 refundable tax credit in the current package essentially the same thing? Technically it's a credit against income tax, but in practice, since it's refundable, it's a flat tax rebate for everyone who's employed, which makes it roughly the same as a temporary payroll tax cut. The only real difference is that a flat tax credit is relatively more generous to the working poor than a payroll tax cut — which is a good thing — and internally it gets charged to the general fund rather than the Social Security trust fund — which doesn't matter one way or the other. What's not to like?

Bush USA Watch

BUSH USA WATCH....From a Washington Post story today about campaign finance allegations lodged against Michael Steele:

The claim about the payment, one of several allegations by Alan B. Fabian, is outlined in a confidential court document....The U.S. attorney's office inadvertently sent the confidential document, a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, to The Washington Post after the newspaper requested the prosecution's sentencing memorandum.

Over at The Corner, Steve Hayward snarks:

Inadvertently sent what was supposed to be a sealed document to the Post? Yeah, sure, and the Post will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge real cheap, too.

Is anyone in the U.S. Attorney's office going to lose their job over this? Will the Obama DOJ launch an investigation to make sure this wasn't politically motivated? What would the Post and others have said if this had happened to, say, Howard Dean, during the Bush administration?

Well, considering that U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein was appointed by George Bush, my guess is that he will indeed lose his job pretty soon. Just like all the rest of Bush's USAs. As for an investigation, that seems like it would be a petty and vindictive partisan attack on a Bush appointee who's going to be out of office soon anyway, but I guess it's OK with me if conservatives insist.

Mindless Cuts

MINDLESS CUTS....The nickel version of what's happened to the stimulus bill so far is that it started out at around $800 billion, a bunch of stuff got added that increased the tab to $900 billion, and then a centrist group of senators took out a machete and pared it back to around $800 billion. Assuming it passes the Senate on Tuesday, it will then go to conference, where there will probably be some more horsetrading before it reaches its final form.

In other words, this is lawmaking as usual, and I can't say that I'm especially outraged by it. Yes, the cuts were fairly random, but then, the original bill was a pretty scattershot collection of programs too. That's inevitable in legislation this size. Besides, some of this stuff will probably get a second life later in the year — and in any case, I have just enough residual doubt about the wisdom of stimulating consumption when we all know that eventually consumption needs to fall that I'm not especially unhappy about keeping the price tag to $800 billion.

That said, the primary target of the cuts is pretty hard to defend:

The biggest cut, roughly $40 billion in aid to states, was likely to spur a fierce fight in negotiations with the House over the final bill....In addition to the large cut in state aid, the Senate agreement would cut nearly $20 billion proposed for school construction; $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings and make them more energy efficient; $1 billion for the early childhood program Head Start; and $2 billion from a plan to expand broadband data networks in rural and underserved areas.

State aid was cut? That's crazy. Even many of the conservatives I read agree that preventing huge state cutbacks is one of the quickest and most efficient forms of fiscal stimulus. And most of the rest of the spending on this list is infrastructure spending, exactly the thing that conservatives were complaining there was too little of.

Granted, neither laws nor sausages bear close scrutiny, but trading this stuff for a bunch of idiotic car and homebuying subsidies strikes me as unusually mindless, even by U.S. Senate standards. This is not exactly centrism's finest hour.

Friday Cat Blogging - 6 February 2009

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....This has been sort of a crummy week on a whole bunch of levels, so I'm glad it's over. Unfortunately, one result of this crumminess has been a lack of energy to take new catblogging pictures to mark the end of the week. Luckily, we have many, many file photos of our adorable furballs here at Catblogging Headquarters, so here's a couple from last year. However, I promise some brand new photos next Friday to go along with the rollout of our brand new site here at MoJo. In the meantime, have a nice weekend, everyone.

Liam Neeson

LIAM NEESON....Peter Suderman writes that Taken is "a formulaic tough-guy revenge picture....short, ultra-violent, occasionally sadistic, not particularly creative, and packed with a continent’s worth of stereotypical foreign uglies." But he liked it anyway. Why? Because it stars Liam Neeson.

I'm not surprised. Neeson is, after all, our greatest living actor. How do I know this? Consider: every single actor directed by George Lucas in the second Star Wars trilogy gave a performance that could only charitably be called embarrassing. The lone exception was Liam Neeson, who, against all odds, managed to overcome Lucas's leaden dialog and clunky direction and turn in an appealing, understated performance anyway. If that's not evidence that he's our greatest living actor, I don't know what is.

Lala Land Update 1

LALA LAND UPDATE....Harold Meyerson reports the latest on the Hilda Solis front:

Republican senators have a modest proposal for Hilda Solis: that if she’s confirmed as Labor Secretary, she recuse herself from any advocacy for the Employee Free Choice Act.

That’s quite the suggestion. Rather like asking Robert Gates not to advocate for the armed forces, or Judd Gregg not to champion American business, or President Obama’s environmental picks not to support stricter fuel-efficiency standards. But then, Republicans’ opposition to unions is close to clinically pathological.

These guys just don't know when to quit. Don't they ever get embarrassed by this stuff?

Iraqi Elections

IRAQI ELECTIONS....Results from Iraq's provincial elections are finally in. The LA Times reports:

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has won a resounding victory in provincial elections across Iraq, cashing in on his strongman image while dealing a sharp defeat to outright religious parties, according to preliminary results released Thursday.

Candidates running under Maliki's Enforcement of Law slate won the most seats in nine of 14 contested provinces, including the Shiite Muslim power bases of Baghdad and Basra. /p>

Juan Cole offers a rather different take:

Although Nuri al-Maliki's Da'wa Party got over a third of the votes in Baghdad and Basra, they clearly did not achieve a commanding position, and its share in the more rural Shiite provinces was signifcantly less..

The big story here is that the Shiite religious parties (and yes, the Da'wa or Islamic Mission Party is among them) again swept the Shiite south. However, those Shiite parties that won out this time want a strong central government, not a Shiite mini-state.

....On the whole, I think these results are encouraging for Obama. The Sunni Arab ex-Baathist secular elites have reentered polities in the Sunni Arab areas. These election results put paid to the fantasies of Dick Cheney and John McCain that Sunni Arab Iraqis are pro-"al-Qaeda." Most of them would not even vote for a religious party, much less for a radical fundamentalist terrorist group. Cheney said that if the US left, al-Qaeda would take over Sunni Arab Iraq. That is highly unlikely given these election results.

I certainly wouldn't have guessed this a year or two ago, but Maliki really does seem to have consolidated his position throughout the country, something that's almost certainly good news for the U.S. If Obama really does want to get out of Iraq within 16 months (or 19 months or 23 months, depending on who you listen to), it's going to be a lot easier if the Maliki administration is stable and relatively secure. And while Iraq will still have friendly relations with Iran under Maliki, that would have been the case regardless and is probably no bad thing anyway. Overall, I'd say these results make a successful withdrawal from Iraq more likely than it was a week ago.

Hilda Solis

HILDA SOLIS....I see that Senate Republicans are continuing to throw up roadblocks in front of Hilda Solis, Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary. This is pretty odd. I mean, what's their beef? That she's pro-labor and pro-EFCA? That can hardly be a surprise, since Obama himself is pro-labor and pro-EFCA. That there's some kind of skeleton in her closet? Maybe, but the items they've dug up so far have been tissue thin. They can't possibly think her husband's tax liens are going to derail her nomination, can they? And the ARW stuff is even more ridiculous.

The whole thing is hard to fathom. But I guess it's yet another indication that of all the things that drive Republicans crackers, labor tops the list. Even more than taxes, they just go completely nuts when they're faced with the prospect of unions gaining a bit of power. The result is a temper tantrum over Solis even though they know perfectly well they can't stop her nomination.