Economic Stimulus Moves to Senate Following House Approval

AMY GOODMAN: The House approved an $819 billion stimulus package Wednesday, marking one of the most expensive pieces of legislation ever to move through Congress. Despite an all-out lobbying push by President Obama, the bill passed without a single Republican vote. Eleven Democrats also opposed the measure.


The Los Angeles Times says the package is “the largest attempt since World War II to use the federal budget to redirect the course of the nation’s economy.” The two-year stimulus plan totals $275 billion in tax cuts and nearly $545 billion in domestic spending. It would provide up to $1,000 per year in tax relief for most families, increase funding for alternative energy production, and direct more than $300 billion in aid to states to help rebuild schools, provide healthcare to the poor and reconstruct highways and bridges.


House Republicans argued the bill tilted heavily toward new spending instead of tax cuts and that it would do little to stimulate the economy. This is Georgia Republican Paul Broun.


REP. PAUL BROUN: I see this as a huge leap toward socialism as a nation. It’s creating new government programs, it’s creating new government jobs, that don’t have any sunlight to those programs, to those jobs. It expands programs that are already there. It further—some of the tax relief, I believe and hope the gentlemen will agree with me, actually just furthers through the refundable tax credits a dependency upon government. My friend Star Parker had wrote a book one time that she called Uncle Sam’s Plantation. And what this does is it economically enslaves people. And that’s what we see happening.




AMY GOODMAN: President Obama hailed the passage of the legislation and made no mention of the unanimous Republican opposition. He will now turn his attention to the Senate, where Democrats are scheduled to begin debate on the measure on Monday and the price tag is likely to reach $900 billion.


Hours before yesterday’s House vote, President Obama told a group of about a hundred business leaders that Congress must not delay efforts to restart the economy and put people back to work.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The businesses that are shedding jobs to stay afloat, they can’t afford inaction or delay. The workers who are returning home to tell their husbands and wives and children that they no longer have a job and all those who live in fear that their job will be next on the cutting blocks, they need help now. They are looking to Washington for action, bold and swift. And that is why I hope to sign an American recovery and reinvestment plan into law in the next few weeks.


And most of the money that we’re investing as part of this plan will get out the door immediately and go directly to job creation, generating or saving three to four million new jobs. And the vast majority of these jobs will be created in the private sector, because, as these CEOs well know, business, not government, is the engine of growth in this country.




AMY GOODMAN: Obama’s comments come at a time when the economy that is losing more than half a million jobs a month, including more than 65,000 layoffs announced just this week.


William Greider joins us now, the national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine; the author of several books, including The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy and One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. His forthcoming book is called Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country. He joins us in our firehouse studio.


Welcome to Democracy Now!




AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you here in the studio.


WILLIAM GREIDER: Likewise, yes.


AMY GOODMAN: The state of the economy right now, what President Obama just said, the fact that they’ve pushed through this more than $800 billion economic stimulus package. The House at this point, with—as Boehner, I think, came onto the floor with a—holding his hand up in a big zero, saying the Republicans are not going to give them anything.


WILLIAM GREIDER: The Republicans, it’s very clear, they are staking out a sort of—what they think is a no-lose, hard-right position: “We will be against anything significant this new president is attempting, because we know it’s going to fail, not because it’s Obama’s fault, but because this force, the negative forces bearing down on our economy and the world are overwhelming.” So they think, you know, six months from now they will say, “We told you this was socialism,” “We told you this was wasteful,” etc.


I think they’re wrong on several—I think the President is doing what he said he would do. He’s trying to be bipartisan. And I suspect he will keep doing that, regardless of the Republican position, because he understands that the country is in deep trouble, and people are not interested in another cat-and-dog fight. They want to see something happen. If it doesn’t work, do something more, try something else. But the idea of just standing back and making their ideological speeches about socialism is ridiculous.


AMY GOODMAN: Seems like the person who’s leading the way now, who lost a little support over the last few years but is coming back with a vengeance, is Rush Limbaugh leading the charge.


WILLIAM GREIDER: Is he pounding that drum? Well, he’s welcome to it. I think there’s a long-term political strategy that the President is following, which is good for him, and good for the country maybe, in which he said he’s speaking not to Rush Limbaugh, not to John Boehner and the right-wingers in the Congress; he’s talking to just folks all across the country, including Republicans.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, I’d like you to lay out what the terms of this bill are, what the package are. But then I want to go beyond the Democratic-Republican spectrum—




AMY GOODMAN: —about what you think needs to happen. What’s in this bill?


WILLIAM GREIDER: A lot of really good stuff that will be stimulative, just because it keeps—either keeps people working or it creates new jobs and begins—only begins, but begins—these deeper reform imperatives the country faces, like energy conservation and conversion, like ecological protection, expanding healthcare for people, especially at the bottom end of the income ladder. In any other season, Amy, it would be quite extraordinary to stand back and see what they’re doing. In our present circumstances, I have to say, it is probably not enough to—


AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’ve said it’s two or three times too small.


WILLIAM GREIDER: Yeah. I mean, you can measure what’s missing now in demand and business activity and lay it alongside this package, and this package looks way inadequate. I think the White House understands that, but they’re not going to triple it. What they are doing is starting a process that will at least, perhaps, slow the hemorrhage. That’s—I’m sure that’s their hope.


There are a bunch of obstacles that I think make it very difficult to get out of this ditch. One of them is scale, the scale of what kind of response you’re—another is the financial system, which, despite the hundreds of billions pumped into banks, is still essentially dysfunctional. And they’re now wrestling at the Treasury Department and the White House with, OK, how do we change the game that Henry Paulson and the Republicans played for six, nine months unsuccessfully?


AMY GOODMAN: And do you expect someone like Timothy Geithner, who—yesterday we had on Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who is opposed to his confirmation, saying he was part of this massive problem. Do you expect that he would be able to?


WILLIAM GREIDER: Well, I am among those who urged our new president not to appoint him for that very reason. And—


AMY GOODMAN: Did you talk to Obama about that?


WILLIAM GREIDER: No, no. I’m just—in the pages of The Nation—I’m not sure he’s a reader, but perhaps he will become a reader as things get worse. I’ve been writing for some months, the system is not just broken and not just injured; it is collapsed. And as long as the government continues to play putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, I think it will fail. That’s not an ideological statement. It’s just—I think it’s the reality.


And so, I hope, without great confidence, that Larry Summers, the economic adviser, and Tim Geithner and the President decide to take a deep breath, j

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