A billion here and a billion there ...

The big news late last week was that a group of Democratic senators, aided by a few Republicans, cut the bloated economic stimulus bill from $930 billion to $827 billion.
Whew! What a relief!

Of course, students of ancient history — meaning that dimly recalled era immediately after last November’s election — may remember that the president-elect and Democratic leaders were then talking about a stimulus package in the neighborhood of $700 billion. How quaint that figure now seems.

We can’t help but remember the late Sen. Everett Dirksen’s famous witticism, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Today, it would have to be updated to “a hundred billion.”

A stimulus package heavy on job-creating infrastructure projects is needed. However, funding for things like computer upgrades for federal agencies, or more money to educate people on various health dangers, or new education programs may be worthwhile but they have no business in the stimulus bill.

And President Obama’s attacks on Republicans for raising concerns about that type of spending is both unfair and contrary to his own pledge to work in a bipartisan manner.

Although some Republicans have pushed for larger tax increases, to which Obama objected, many were simply concerned about the non-stimulus spending in the bill.

The legislation as it now stands may create 1.3 million to 3.9 million jobs over the next two years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And that is welcome news.

But the budget office also warned that it may well slow economic growth over the next decade because all the government spending will crowd out private investment.

Furthermore, while the Senate negotiators last week managed to cut roughly $100 million from the spending package, some of that is likely to be reinstated when a compromise is hammered out between House and Senate versions of the bill.

Already, some politicians are talking about restoring the largest item cut last week — $40 billion to assist states in the financial crisis. But state governments should either cut spending or ask their own taxpayers to raise revenue, not depend on federal tax money.

Also, a bailout to all state governments amounts to a subsidy from residents of states that have been relatively frugal to those states where spending went wild and the financial problems are now overwhelming. Think California.

The Senate was expected to vote to halt debate on the stimulus bill Monday, and move soon to a final vote on the bill. If Republicans can’t muster enough votes to halt it, the legislation will then go to a House-Senate conference committee and on to the president for his signature. We can only hope that this massively expensive bill provides something close to the boost to our economy that its supporters claim it will.


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