Pass This Deal. Then Get Back To Work.

Bill Scher

The House and Senate have a crafted a final deal for an economic recovery bill. Like with any compromise, there are things to like and not like. And no matter what the final result, everyone — including the President — understands this bill cannot be our final act. This is only a down payment on all the investments we need to make in infrastructure, clean energy, healthcare and education.

That’s why it is imperative we tell Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible, so it becomes law on a wave of grassroots momentum, and we instill more political will in Congress to get back to work and continue investing in America’s future.

On the biggest contested matters, some funds for school modernization and aid to state governments were restored, but still not as much as the House initially had for them. At the same time, poorly targeted tax credits for purchasing homes (Dean Baker dubbed it a “house flipping subsidy”) and cars (with no emphasis on fuel-efficiency), were scaled back.

The heart of the bill still remains, and it represents a dramatic shift away from the failed conservatism of the past, towards active progressive government for the common good — the biggest and boldest progressive legislation in the past 40 years says my colleague Bernie Horn. The final compromise, according to the Associated Press, includes:

Aid to the Poor and Unemployed

$40 billion to provide extended unemployment benefits through Dec. 31, and increase them by $25 a week

$20 billion to increase food stamp benefits by 14 percent

$3 billion in temporary welfare payments.

$14 billion to give one-time $250 payments to Social Security recipients, poor people on Supplemental Security Income, and veterans receiving disability and pensions.

Infrastructure

$46 billion for transportation projects, including $27 billion for highway and bridge construction and repair

$8.4 billion for mass transit

$8 billion for construction of high-speed railways and $1.3 billion for Amtrak

$4.6 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers

$4 billion for public housing improvements

$6.4 billion for clean and drinking water projects

$7 billion to bring broadband Internet service
to underserved areas.

Health Care

$21 billion to provide a 60 percent subsidy of health care insurance premiums for the unemployed under the COBRA program

$87 billion to help states with Medicaid

$19 billion to modernize health information technology systems

$10 billion for health research and construction of National Institutes of Health facilities.

Education

$54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts, with up to $10 billion for school repair;

$26 billion to school districts to fund special education and the No Child Left Behind law for students in K-12

$17 billion to boost the maximum Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350

$2 billion for Head Start.

$13 billion to provide a $2,500 expanded tax credit for college tuition and related expenses for 2009 and 2010. The credit is phased out for couples making more than $160,000.

Reuters also notes that infrastructure investments, broadly defined, total $150 billion of the bill, and Grist notes that $70 billion goes to clean energy and energy-efficiency projects.

Does that solve all our problems? Of course not.

As our latest report, “Beyond Recovery: America’s Public Investment Deficit” details, our infrastructure needs over the next five years total $2.2 trillion. School and college building repairs add up to $367 billion. And to transition to a sustainable clean energy economy, we must invest $500 billion over the next ten years.

But does it put us on the correct path? Absolutely.

Today’s Thinking Big Conference was all about building support for fiscally responsible, deficit-funded, long-term investment for sustainable growth and a revived social contract.

Whether the White House is fully with us can’t be known. But at minimum, the Obama administration has made clear it knows there is more to do after this bill. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recently said: “We’re going to have to continue to make investments in order to continue that economic growth and that job growth. This isn’t a one-time deal.”

We have a long way to go to realize our lofty but necessary goals. But the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is turning the ship of government 180 degrees around and pointing us in the right direction.

Get on board. Get in touch with your congresspeople. And then get back to work.

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