When Moderates Cause Extreme Damage

Isaiah J. Poole

There are times when moderation is no virtue, and this economic recovery is one of those times. So let’s be blunt about it: Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has been a leading obstructionist on the road to economic recovery.

He, along with an infinitesimal group of Republican “centrists”—my colleague Bill Scher calls them “a gang of fools”—is largely responsible for what is now before the Senate: a watered-down recovery bill that must be significantly rewritten in a House-Senate conference if it is to have meaningful impact on the economic downturn we’re having now.

That’s not to say the Senate shouldn’t pass what’s on the table. What it does say is that we need to take the fight to the conference committee this week, and we should not let the so-called “centrists” co-conspire with conservative obstructionists to define the terms of the debate.

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times lays out why the “centrists” are wrong and why progressives who want a bolder and larger spending plan are right:

Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.

… One of the best features of the original plan was aid to cash-strapped state governments, which would have provided a quick boost to the economy while preserving essential services. But the centrists insisted on a $40 billion cut in that spending.

The original plan also included badly needed spending on school construction; $16 billion of that spending was cut. It included aid to the unemployed, especially help in maintaining health care — cut. Food stamps — cut. All in all, more than $80 billion was cut from the plan, with the great bulk of those cuts falling on precisely the measures that would do the most to reduce the depth and pain of this slump.

On the other hand, the centrists were apparently just fine with one of the worst provisions in the Senate bill, a tax credit for home buyers. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research calls this the “flip your house to your brother” provision: it will cost a lot of money while doing nothing to help the economy.

All in all, the centrists’ insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will, if reflected in the final bill, lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering.

We need to be adamant about one thing that the centrists don’t seem to appreciate and the conservatives are determined to ignore: This economy is in a deep, almost $3 trillion hole, the private sector is in no position to fill that hole, and tax-cutting is a bridge to nowhere at a time when we really need to build the infrastructure to a more stable and sustainable economy of shared prosperity.

Jim Hightower’s bit of folk wisdom—”Ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos”—is as apt now as it has ever been. It’s time to tell both the conservative obstructionists in the Senate and the “centrists” who try to fruitlessly bargain with them that we will not allow the economy to be the latest dead armadillo to be run over in the name of faux bipartisanship.

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