Browsing the archives for the economic policy tag.

Redditors to the rescue

Culture, Economy, Media / journalism, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

A Redditor started a Wiki on the stimulus bill. The purpose: to translate its provisions into ordinary language so regular people can understand it, filtering out the legalese. And to sort out exactly how much money is assigned to what and whom.

The initiative got some 870 up votes (and lots of discussion) on Reddit, and it seems like a fair spread of people is now working on the Wiki. I thought it was interesting: both the idea and the resonance it had. Citizenship in action?

Of course, as with every Wiki, the risk of pranks and manipulation looms rather large. But at least, as one commenter notes, it seems like an interesting social experiment. And even just the act of creating it should acquaint a bunch of people with the specifics of the bill, maybe better than many of the Congressmen who had to vote on it hours after the final version was released.

It’s also distinct from a partisan initiative like readthestimulus.org (offline right now), which was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.

No idea how useful or complete it will become. For one, while the site links to the post-conference version of the bill, it also notes that it is still largely based on the version that was passed by the House on 28 January. Whereas the bill was of course significantly modified since – first by the Senate, which made changes that according to Krugman would have created 600,000 jobs less than the original House bill, and then by the conference, which crafted a compromise between the two bills.

I’d also worry about reinventing the wheel. For example, as noted in the Reddit thread, the CBO already created a table, stretching for a few pages, that summarises the stimulus expenses, year by year, by section of the bill. (Table 2 in the enclosures of this letter from the CBO director to Nancy Pelosi.)

But still I thought it was great. At best it will make for a very neat tool, and at worst it will still, as initiative, be an encouraging sign of the times.

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The Republican Senators who voted for the stimulus bill, Round II: The final bill

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

If you were in any suspense about which Republicans voted for the stimulus in the Senate, by the way, now that the previous Senate and House versions have been unified into a final bill, here’s a hint: they were the same ones as last time.

Four days ago, the Senate voted on its own version of the stimulus bil. All of three Republicans voted in favour: Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME) and Arlen Specter (PA). Judd Gregg (R-NH) abstained, and all other Republicans voted Nay, while all the Democrats voted Yea.

Then the bill went into the conference committee, where Senate and House bigwigs hammered out a compromise between the different versions of the bill the two chambers had passed. Yesterday the House passed the new version almost entirely along partisan lines, with not one Republican voting in favour and just seven Democrats voting against (see this post for the details). Which left it to the Senate to confirm the result and pass the new, unified bill as well.

They did so, and the vote was practically identical to last time. The only differences were that Ted Kennedy, battling brain cancer, wasn’t able to come now, and Gregg this time did not abstain but voted against. The result: 60 Yeas and 38 Nays, compared to 61-37 last time.

00064 13-Feb On the Conference Report Agreed to Conference Report; American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
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Polling the stimulus

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

You may have seen Karl Rove opine in the WSJ that “support for the stimulus bill is falling”, and that “the more Americans learn about the bill, the less they like it.” He is certainly not the only conservative asserting that the bill is impopular.

I’m not in the super-enthusiastic category myself, if obviously for very different reasons than conservatives have for disliking it. Overall I think the bill doesn’t look bad, though my initial enthusiasm has been damped somewhat after reading, for example, Paul Krugman’s very persuasive commentary. It’s probably not enough, and maddeningly worse than it could have been; but it’s still a whole lot better than nothing, and it does have lots of good stuff in it. So far my layman’s take, which is not exactly the most interesting one.

But what does the American population think? Is Karl Rove right? Unsurprisingly, not quite. An overview of the polls that were conducted in the past two and a half weeks, and explicitly asked respondents to express an opinion for or against the bill.

There are two pollsters that have done more than one poll within this timeframe: Gallup and Rasmussen.

Gallup asked: “As you may know, Congress is considering a new economic stimulus package of at least 800 billion dollars. Do you favor or oppose Congress passing this legislation?” All three times it polled the question, it found a majority in favor, and in the last iteration, on the 10th, that majority had grown from 52% to 59%.

Rasmussen asked: “Do you favor or oppose the economic recovery package proposed by Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats?” It found strikingly different results.

According to Rasmussen, in late January a narrow plurality of 42% was in favour; a week later the roles were reversed, with a plurality of 43% in opposition; and by the 11th a plurality of 44% was in favour again.

Three other pollsters asked a variation of the same question at some point in these last two and a half weeks.

A CBS poll queried respondents: “Would you approve or disapprove of the federal government passing an economic stimulus bill costing more than 800 billion dollars in order to try to help the economy?” They approved by 51% to 39%.

A Pew poll asked respondents: “From what you’ve read and heard, do you think [the economic stimulus plan being proposed by President Obama that may cost about $800 billion] is a good idea or a bad idea?”. It found a narrow majority of 51% saying it was a good idea; 34% thought it was a bad idea.

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The Democrats who voted against the stimulus bill in the House, part II: Once more round the bend

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

So the vote is in; the US Representatives in the House have voted on the new, unified, post-conference version of the stimulus bill.

The outcome is predictably, depressingly similar to when the House voted on its own draft of the bill two weeks ago. No minds were changed here, no hearts were won. Well, one or two.

70 13-Feb H R 1 On Agreeing to the Conference Report Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year ending 2009

The vote: 246 in favour; 183 against. Compare: the previous time it was 244 in favour and 188 against.

Just like last time, not a single Republican voted in favour. On their side, the only differences were that:

  • Last time, Ginny Brown-Waite (VA-5) did not vote; now she voted Nay;
  • Last time, John Campbell (CA-48) and Chris Lee (NY-26) voted against; now they did not vote.

That’s it.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, 246 Representatives voted in favour; 7 against; 1 “present”; and 1 did not vote. Last time round, 244 voted in favour and 11 against.

These are the Democrats who voted against the stimulus both times:

  • Bobby Bright – AL 02
  • Parker Griffith – AL 05
  • Walt Minnick – ID 01
  • Collin Peterson – MN 07
  • Heath Shuler – NC 11
  • Gene Taylor – MS 04
There were actually three vote-changers who went from supporting the bill to opposing it or abstaining (!):
  • Peter DeFazio (OR-4)- changed from Yea to Nay
  • Dan Lipinski (IL-3) – changed from Yea to Present
  • Jim Clyburn (SC-6) – changed from Yea to Not voting (not sure why – he’s the House Majority Whip. Maybe just couldn’t make it for some reason or other?)
And there were all of five who were persuaded by the changes to the bill and now voted in favour:
  • Allen Boyd – FL 02
  • Jim Cooper – TN 05
  • Brad Ellsworth – IN 08
  • Paul Kanjorski – PA 11
  • Frank Kratovil – MD 01
I’m inclined to say, what a waste. All of these compromises in the name of bipartisan change, and all for nought, as the Republican Party remains unified on its course of sabotage. OK, I realise that the compromises were primarily needed for passage in the Senate. Let’s see how many Republicans sign up there. I doubt it will be more than three or four. And considering that their sense of centrism is to take whatever is offered and just slice a vanity (but costly) 10% off it, you could have had a much better bill by going in more aggressively. Instead of giving away the compromises right at the start by building them straight into the first draft. It was a costly lesson Obama learned.
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Liberal opinion roundup – first opinions about the unified stimulus bill

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

I suggested last night, in a quick first take, that the stimulus bill that came out of the conference committee of Senate and House bigwigs doesn’t look bad. But a quick round-up of the liberal blogs in our blogroll shows mixed reactions, in as far as people have gotten round to responding yet.

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly quotes the Post saying that the final version of the bill, after “tumultuous negotiations,” looks a whole lot like “the broad outline that Obama had painted more than a month ago.” He comments: “It’s a good point. [T]he administration, a month ago, envisioned a $775 billion plan, with $300 billion in tax cuts. The finished product looks pretty similar.” 

He concludes that while “the package should be more aggressive and more ambitious,” it’s still, as a TPM reader put it, an “astonishing … legislative achievement, coming so early in the term.”

Chris Bowers, generally one of the most critical voices, is pithy: “The deal isn’t perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years.” You should just make sure that it’s just “a starting point from which our legislative and political prospects only improve.”

Neil Sinhababu at Donkeylicious happily says “Good work, House leadership”, remarking that “Isakson’s idiotic $15K tax break per house for home-flippers is gone, and a bunch of the aid to states is back.” Moreover, Stephen Suh at Cogitamus, whose opinion I was particularly interested in because he’s been very vigilant in his criticism of Democratic sell-outs, is satisfied, calling it “a much better bill than anyone thought could come out of the reconciliation process”.

Not everyone is as equinimous, though. Noam Scheiber is outright disappointed: the “only real improvement” on the Senate bill ” is the rollback of the wasteful car and home-buying tax credit”. Otherwise the package is “insufficient”:

Okay, I was wrong–I’ll be the first to admit it. The conference committee didn’t end up moving nearly as far toward the House version of the stimulus bill as I thought it would. The compromise, from what we know of it, looks much more like the substantively inferior Senate version: the cuts to state aid and school construction and COBRA subsidies more or less stand. So does the $70 billion Alternative Minimum Tax relief measure, which may be a perfectly fine idea, but isn’t stimulus under any reasonable definition of the term. This is disappointing, to say the least. 

He also quotes Sen. Tom Harkin, who was downright dismissive to the New York Times:

“I am not happy with it [..] You are not looking at a happy camper. I mean they took a lot of stuff out of education. They took it out of health, school construction and they put it more into tax issues.”

Mr. Harkin said he was particularly frustrated by the money being spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax. “It’s about 9 percent of the whole bill,” he said, “Why is it in there? It has nothing to do with stimulus. It has nothing to do with recovery.”

Nothing from Ezra Klein or Kevin Drum yet, the two bloggers I quote way too often here, just because somehow it often feels like they’re my long-lost, smarter, more brilliant, skilful and ambitious twin brothers or something. Normally they write what I wish I would have written, so if they turn out to be scathing about the end result, I’ll be second-guessing myself. We’ll see.

To help you make up your own mind, AP has the new, unified bill’s highlights. The Library of Congress has all the prior info on the bill, but does not seem to have info on the conference committee compromise yet. Since Congressional votes are expected within days, I’m sure the final, full text will be available soon.

UPDATE:

Matt Yglesias is ambivalently positive: “Still, the Senate bill was a lot better than nothing and the conference report is better than the Senate bill, largely thanks to Nancy Pelosi who continues to be the most underrated progressive leader in America [..]. Still, despite Pelosi’s best efforts a lot of good stimulative ideas were left out of this package and a lot of the topline dollar figure has been dedicated to an AMT patch that’s useless as stimulus. The administration and the House Democrats still know what these good ideas are, [..] and I think it’s important that they find ways to work some of those ideas into the regular budget process.”

Ezra Klein has “mixed feelings”:

The passage of the legislation is heartening, but the specifics of the compromise are depressing. So too was the demonstrated power of the centrists and the effortless unity of Republican opposition. The process did not bode well for more controversial priorities like health care and cap-and-trade.

Perhaps most galling was the shell game of the AMT patch. $70 billion for an upper class tax break. [..] And this one provision comprised almost a tenth of the bill. [..]

It was a mixed bill that was constructed in a disappointing way. The left bought into the theory of stimulus spending, which included speed, and many hoped that the spending side would be built to accomplish an array of long-term priorities in areas like transit. That proved, if not wrong, then not right, either. The final bill included a lot of spending — most of it genuine stimulus — but much of it was very different from the sort of spending that the left wanted. If you think of the stimulus bill as having had two questions — how much spending, and what sort — I’d say that liberals should feel good about the first and ambivalent about the second.

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Stimulus bill comes out of conference. While it’s distasteful to see the centrists crow, the bill doesn’t look bad.

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

So the Conference Committee of Senate and House honchos has reached a deal: U.S. Lawmakers Agree on $789 Billion Stimulus Plan (Update4). The $789 billion price tag means that the bill is indeed smaller than either the House or Senate bill – but at first blush the outcome doesn’t look bad (at least not to my distinctly layman ears).

It’s a little distasteful to see the centrists strut themselves on the bill in the most sanctimonious way: 

“It is a jobs bill,” said Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, an architect of the compromise. “And today you might call us the jobs squad.” Nelson and several other senators had insisted that the stimulus plan total less than $800 billion.

Think about this for a second – he prides himself on having cut stuff from the plan – stuff, obviously, that would have created jobs – and even as he touts this dubious achievement, he frames it as having created “a jobs bill,” actually praising himself as part of “the jobs squad”. Never mind that, if it hadn’t been for the vanity tour of his crew, it would have been more of a jobs bill. The chutzpah these people demonstrate, as Matt Yglesias already laid bare earlier, is truly a piece of work.

But all of that is transient. What’s important is the actual bill. And there seems to be a fair bit of good news about this latest revision, going on the Bloomberg update now. At least if you judge the bill by the criteria of liberal criticism this past month – which I am admittedly reduced to somewhat since I have little economic schooling of my own. (So do chime in!)

All in all, about 35% of the plan has ended up as tax cuts and the remainder as government spending. Just to take a step back from the fray: considering just how much tax cuts have been regarded as the holy grail by every administration since Reagan’s, and extra government spending has been widely framed as almost a bad thing in principle, that’s not bad.

Tax cuts

The tax cuts seem overall revised in the right direction. For example, the biggest tax cut that had been included for businesses, which would have let companies convert losses into tax refunds, has been “all but eliminated”. This was a measure that had been criticized as yielding little immediate stimulus and doing little to help the people most in need – Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Progress called it “simply a give-away to the financial industry and homebuilders,” which “has nothing to do with stimulus” and wouldn’t “even be considered if it were not for the political power of the financial industry.”

A proposed $15,000 tax credit for homebuyers was reduced to $8,000. Funding for the plan to let car buyers take a tax write-off on their interest payments has been slashed from $11 billion to $2 billion. These, too, were ideas I’ve seen criticized by liberal pundits. The auto measure would have had little immediate stimulus effect, because it would have primarily resulted in the auto industry emptying the current vast stocks of unsold cars and using the profit to plug debts – all things that would be good, but wouldn’t create new jobs. The tax credit for homebuyers, at this point in the housing market, would be like carrying water to the sea.

On the other hand, Obama’s proposed payroll tax credit has mostly survived, reduced from $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families to will be $400 and $800 respectively.

Can’t have it all though – the plan still includes an Alternative Minimum Tax patch, which, if I’m reading his chart right, ranks very poorly in terms of stimulus impact according to James Galbraith.

Spending

As for the actual spending, there’s these tidbits:

  • Nancy Pelosi “said she was reassured by Reid that some of the money Democrats in her chamber sought for school construction were included as part of a stabilization fund for states”. That fund will apparently total $54 billion.
  • There’s “$59 billion in aid for unemployed workers in families, including $27 billion to extend unemployment benefits for 20 additional weeks in most states and 33 additional weeks in states with high unemployment rates”. 
    Note that the Progressive Caucus in the House was already very proud of having gotten “at least $12.7 billion” in the stimulus bill the House passed to extend unemployment benefits – so that means that this end result is actually even better, right? 
  • It “also increases weekly [unemployment] benefits by $25.”
  • The bill “expands a federal subsidy to help jobless workers keep their health benefits by paying 60 percent of their premiums for nine months for married couples who earn under $250,000.”
    Judging on this side-by-side overview of the differences between the House and Senate bills, this seems to have been one of the House bill’s provisions that the Senate centrists had scrapped in theirs.
  • It “authorizes a one-time $250 payment for senior citizens, disabled veterans and disabled people living on Social Security benefits.”
    Judging on the above-linked overview, that looks like a more generous scope than the House bill’s, in which only Social Security beneficiaries would have received it.
  • It provides $90 billion for federal funds for Medicaid and $19 billion to facilitate the digitization of health records.

All sounds like good stuff that will immediately aid those hardest hit by the crisis, as well as nicely reverse the trend of the last decade or two to squeeze the benefits for the poorest ever further.

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The Republicans who voted for the stimulus bill in the Senate (all three of them)

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

UPDATE, 14 February: Yesterday, the Senate voted anew on the stimulus bill; this time on the final, unified version of the bill that came out of the conference, where House and Senate leaders hammered out a compromise between the two bills their respective chambers had passed. The breakdown of the vote was almost identical: see The Republican Senators who voted for the stimulus bill, Round II: The final bill.

—————

Less than two weeks ago, I wrote a post on The Democrats who voted against the stimulus bill in the House. Against the House’s version of the stimulus bill, that is. As you might remember, all 177 Republicans in the House voted against it and 11 Democrats joined them, which means that the bill passed by 244 votes to 188.

That vote passed the baton on to the Senate, and thus a new round of wrangling started. Centrist champions Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) fought to cut stuff out of any stimulus bill they’d be asked to pass. Their selection of exclusions made little coherent sense and struck some of the most effective elements of the stimulus package from the Senate bill – all in the name of bipartisanship.

Yesterday the Senate voted on the result, and the vote was, as Ezra describes it nicely, “about as constructively bipartisan as kick in the head”.

Since it’s a very rare news report that links to the roll call, you can find it here:

00061 10-Feb H.R. 1 On Passage of the Bill Passed H.R. 1 as Amended; American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

That’s a vote of 61 to 37. All of three Republicans voted in favour: Snowe, Susan Collins (ME) and Arlen Specter (PA). Judd Gregg, Obama’s new Republican Commerce Secretary, abstained from the vote as promised, but in the Senate an abstention de facto equals a “Nay” vote. Every single Republican from a state South or West from Pittsburgh voted against the bill.

Let’s recall the compromises that were made to make this bill palatable for Senate Republicans:

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. Many states, hit hard by the recession, face wrenching cuts in services and layoffs of public employees as they struggle to comply with laws requiring them to balance their budgets. [..]

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.

I don’t need to go into what these cuts meant, because assorted bloggers already presented the score:

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Will the grapes of the House GOP’s wrath turn out to be sweet for the Democrats?

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Economy, US Politics

I already noted that the significant dilution of the stimulus bill, when it was only going to be rejected unanimously by the House GOP anyway, drove some people up the wall. “Now that [Obama has] offered concrete concessions to the GOP only to have them publicly throw them back in his face, there simply isn’t any super-secret strategy that can [..] make it all make sense,” wrote Stephen Suh angrily at Cogitamus. Why bother even striving for compromise?

This question will get more acute by the day, as a recent post by Kevin Drum illustrates. He reports on the Obama administration’s push to extend the February 17 deadline for TV stations to switch from analog to digital transmissions. Not exactly a hotly partisan issue, right? The Senate promptly arrived at a bipartisan bill – which it passed unanimously. Every Republican agreed. But then the bill went to the House.

Only 22 House Republicans voted in favour. 155 voted against it. Drum: “100% of Senate Republicans voted in favor but 90% of House Republicans voted against. Shazam! Apparently the House GOP caucus really has decided to blindly stonewall everything Obama wants, no matter what.” He posits: “This is even more of a wakeup call than the vote on the stimulus bill.”

Right. The House GOP leadership is startlingly open about its intentions too, observes Dan at Bleakonomy. It will block and obstruct whatever comes its way, so Republicans can freely blame the Democrats for everything when the economy hasn’t recovered yet in six months. Yes, six months – if things haven’t improved in six months, the Republicans intend to say that it’s all the Dems’ fault and that the stimulus “didn’t work” because they “didn’t have the input in this”.

Of course, the current crisis is turning out to be the worst in almost three decades and is guaranteed to have an impact lasting (much) longer than six months, so … GOP profit!

Yet still there are valid reasons not to come down on Stephen’s side of the argument … yet. (I mean, apart from the stimulus bill not actually being all that bad.) The obvious one is the enormous contrast between House and Senate Republicans on the TV bill. If the Senate GOP shows any remotely similar divergence from the House Republicans’ obstruction course on the stimulus as well, Obama’s strategy may still come to “make sense”.

Then there’s the question of strategy. I already linked to Josh Marshall’s argument that offering the Republicans significant compromises, only for them to reject everything anyway, will help to brand them as the party of ‘no’. Which will marginalise them even further in 2010 so the Dems can go the long haul. Kevin Drum links to more evidence on that count too: a poll conducted by Democracy Corps on January 14-19.

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The Democrats who voted against the stimulus bill in the House

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

UPDATE, 13 February: For an overview on today’s vote, see this new post: The Democrats who voted against the stimulus bill in the House, part II: Once more round the bend.

—————

Yesterday, as Americans will know, the House of Representatives passed the $825 billion stimulus package that was proposed by the Democratic leadership. It passed by 244 votes to 188, without a single Republican vote in favour. 11 Democrats voted against.

Who were those Democrats? The Clerk’s Office of the House has the roll call:

46 28-Jan H R 1 On Passage Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year ending 2009

The Democrats who voted nay were:

  • Allen Boyd – FL 02
  • Bobby Bright – AL 02
  • Jim Cooper – TN 05
  • Brad Ellsworth – IN 08
  • Parker Griffith – AL 05
  • Paul Kanjorski – PA 11
  • Frank Kratovil – MD 01
  • Walt Minnick – ID 01
  • Collin Peterson – MN 07
  • Heath Shuler – NC 11
  • Gene Taylor – MS 04

WSJ’s Washington Wire notes that “Bright, Parker, Kratovil and Minnick are freshman lawmakers, while Boyd, Cooper, Ellsworth, Peterson, Shuler and Taylor [and Minnick – nimh] are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition.”

Mind you, the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition has 47 members in all, so almost 6 out of 7 Blue Dogs actually voted in favour.

Democratic votes against the stimulus package in the House of Representatives vote of 28 January 2009

Democratic votes against the stimulus package in the House of Representatives vote of 28 January 2009

As the quickly improvised map above shows, most of the Democratic Nay votes come from rural and small-town districts, and six of the 11 Democratic Representatives who voted against were from the South. That’s still a small minority of Southern Dems in the House though.

The dilution of the stimulus bill during its preparation for the House vote has driven some liberal observers up the wall, and hyperbole aside not without reason. So many concessions, and still not a single Republican vote? Why bother in the first place?

But on the side of the defense, Josh Marshall argues that it might all turn out to be smart strategy; with Marc Ambinder chiming in that what may seem like Democratic gullibility is also done with an eye of unrelated upcoming votes. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, in its turn, has made a point (in a memo that’s not on their own website – what’s up with that?) of highlighting all the priorities it did manage to get into the bill. For example, a “20% temporary increase in maximum food stamp level above the FY2009 level for two years” (cost: $24 billion), “Medicaid payments to states (FMAP)” (cost: at least $15 billion) and “Unemployment benefits (UI) extension” (cost: at least $12.7 billion).

Now to wait how many of their proposals make it through by the time the Senate’s done with the bill as well.

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Bernie Sanders’ beef with Geithner

Economy, Politics, US Politics, World Economy

Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont, was one of the members of the Democratic caucus who voted against the confirmation of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. He has his statement about why he did so up now. It’s short, and has nothing to do with Geithner’s tax problems; Bernie’s criticism is more systemic:

Massive deregulation of the financial services industry has led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  We need a treasury secretary who will support strong and robust regulation of the financial services sector.  

“Mr. Geithner was at the Fed and the Treasury Department when the deregulatory fervor that got us into this mess ran rampant. He was part of the problem.  I hope he becomes part of the solution, but I could not support his nomination at this time.

Meanwhile, I dug up this link from 1998 that may provide a bit of backstory hinting at the larger ideological disagreements at play. Back then, Bernie was still in the House, and Geithner was Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at Clinton’s Treasury Department. Geithner came to the House to testify in a review of the operations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Later on, of course, Geithner would himself move to the IMF. 

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Sanders was (and I assume still is) a harsh critic of the IMF, as his introduction in the review illustrates, and had a rather contentious exchange with Geithner, in which he accused him of disobeying the law. Why, for one – he asked citing the State Department’s human rights reports on Indonesia – did the US not vote against IMF loans to General Suharto’s Indonesia? Why did it not oppose IMF loans to authoritarian governments that violate human rights and jail labor leaders?

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Why did Sanders, Feingold, Harkin and Byrd vote against Geithner?

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

The Senate yesterday voted to confirm Tim Geithner as Obama’s new Treasury Secretary – but the vote was narrower than expected, at 60-34. Apparently, it was the slimmest margin of confirmation for a Treasury Secretary since WWII.

Among those who voted nay were the Democrats Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin and Robert Byrd, as well as Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont who was elected as independent but caucuses with the Democrats. I’m generally a fan of Feingold and especially Sanders, and lukewarm about Geithner (not so much about the tax issue as rather because he’s too cautious and too involved in the current failings of the financial system). So I’m curious why they went all out and voted against him.

I tried searching for any statements from them on the matter, but there’s nothing on any of their Senate homepages. For Byrd, all I found (in three zillion copies of a news agency report) is that he commented after the vote, “Had he not been nominated for treasury secretary, it’s doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes.” But Firedoglake has the statement from Feingold. For him, too, it was the tax issue that did it:

“I voted against the nomination of Timothy Geithner to be the next Secretary of the Treasury with some reluctance. President Obama, like any other President, is entitled to have the Cabinet he wants, barring  serious disqualifying issue, and Mr. Geithner is a very able nominee in many ways. And while I am troubled by Mr. Geithner’s track record on some of the issues that have contributed to the credit market crisis, I do not base my vote on what is, to a certain extent, a matter of policy disagreement.

“Mr. Geithner’s tax liability is a different matter, however. I am deeply troubled by his failure to pay the payroll taxes he owed, despite repeated alerts from his employer at the time, the International Monetary Fund, that he was responsible for paying those taxes. Moreover, his earlier interactions with the Internal Revenue service over his failure to pay sufficient payroll taxes for his household employees make Mr. Geithner’s explanations of his failure to pay his own payroll taxes even less satisfactory. The failure to comply with our nation’s tax laws would be problematic for any Cabinet nominee, but it is especially disturbing when it involves the individual who will be charged with overseeing the enforcement of our tax laws.

“With the condition the economy is in, and the state of our country’s financial institutions, the stakes could not be greater for the next Treasury Secretary. While I could not support his nomination, I respect Mr. Geithner’s abilities and I look forward to working with him to address the serious problems facing our country.”

Meanwhile, the Radio Iowa blog has the statement from Tom Harkin. For him, the tax issue and Geithner’s co-responsibility for the current crisis as chief regulator of the financial institutions weighed equally in his decision:

“I strongly believe that, save in extraordinary circumstances, the President should have the right to select his own team.  President Obama believes that Mr. Geithner is the best person for this job, and it pains me to go against the President’s wishes on this matter.

“I believe that Mr. Geithner is a person of obvious talent and experience, and I bear no ill will toward him whatsoever.  However, after careful deliberation, I simply could not overcome my very serious reservations about this nominee for two reasons. Mr. Geithner made serious errors of judgment in failing to pay his taxes, and he made serious errors in his job as chief regulator of the financial institutions at the heart of the current financial crisis.

“Nothing would make me happier than for Mr. Geithner to prove me wrong by serving with distinction. I wish him every success as Treasury Secretary – we will all be rooting for his success.”

If anyone sees the statement by Bernie Sanders, do leave a link in the comments. UPDATE: Sanders’ statement is in the next blog post.

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Is it that the media pundits are simply too rich to understand?

Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

Ken Grant slammed NBC News’ Mark Whitaker the other day for displaying particularly pronounced vacuity after Obama’s speech on the economy and his stimulus package.* Apparently, the new Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News took to the screen to evaluate Obama’s speech. What did he say “in response to this serious and important speech on the direction that [Obama] plans to take regarding said economic turmoil”?

Did he comment on the substance? Perhaps quibble with the details?  Offer a trenchant critique on the merits of the plan?

Please.  [..] No, Mr. Whitaker decided to flog Obama for his speaking style.

He blathered on for a bit on how he was surprised that Mr. Obama’s speech pattern did not sound like the soaring uplift as heard on the campaign trail.  He wondered why Mr. Obama sounded more like a con-law professor.

Grant’s pissed and goes on the same rant all of us have indulged in at some point in the election season: “This is the problem with our news today, as they are far more concerned with the ‘optics’ or the ‘tone’ or any number of other completely superfluous bits of fluff and ephemera.” Right. As for why though, he offers one straightforward explanation to go in the mix:

You see, he has a job that pays him an extraordinary amount of money, and thus he really doesn’t seem to see that there is a problem.  “Yes, yes, the ‘help’ is feeling a bit pinched, these days [..] Ah, well, hopefully that nice Mr. Obama can do something, if only he would do exactly what we want him to do, and in the manner in which we have become accustomed.”

I think people like Whitaker are more concerned with the manner in which things are done being what they are accustomed to than Obama doing what they want him to do – I don’t think they necessarily have much in the way of specifics on that anyway, other than that he shouldn’t rock the boat too much. But regarding the money thing, is at least part of it really that simple?

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