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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Republican stimulus opposition ill-founded

    On Tuesday, President Obama signed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or “”stimulus,”” into law. The final version, a $787 billion-dollar whopper of a bill, was supported by a grand total of three congressional Republicans. So much for bipartisanship.

    The National Republican Trust Political Action Committee even promised to support any 2010 challenger who ran against a Republican who voted for the stimulus. The message from the right was clear: The stimulus is simply unacceptable. By far the most common line of thought has been the conservative insistence that the stimulus package is filled with pork and waste.

    There is a foolproof algorithm for determining whether or not spending is “”wasteful.”” Simply produce a one-sentence summary of it. If it sounds humorous, or if you can’t imagine why it would be useful, then for the love of God, don’t try learning anything about it; simply dismiss it. Republican Congressmen have applied this algorithm very well. If you believe them, the stimulus bill, which is at most one or two per cent pork, is really a hulking pig-monster.

    Sarah Palin hit on this note quite nicely during the campaign season when, even as she suggested that more funding is needed to study mental disabilities in humans, she derided fruit fly research as an example of wasteful spending. I’m sure Dr. Linda Restifo, a professor of neurobiology and neurology and a researcher with the Arizona Research Laboratories who uses fruit flies as a model system to study human mental disabilities, was quite shocked to hear this.

    One Google result for “”stimulus waste”” lists a number of supposedly “”wasteful”” provisions in old versions of the stimulus, such as $400 million to fight STDs, $850 million for Amtrak, and $1.2 billion for youth summer programs. How any of these is wasteful is beyond me. Part of the attack comes from a Republican line stating that these will not create jobs, as though the only jobs that matter are ones involving manual labor.

    Of course, during the last six years there has been little complaining from the right (and, for some time, from the left) about the ultimate pork project: the war in Iraq, an expensive fantasy which has cost us trillions of dollars. Republicans are apparently OK with spending taxpayer money to improve infrastructure and build schools over there, but not over here.

    Republicans continued to blithely attack the bill on the grounds that it didn’t contain enough tax cuts – never mind the evidence that tax cuts do very little to help the working and middle classes. They also harped on the idea that the stimulus represents a debt that future generations will have to repay. That simply isn’t how it works (and yet again, Republicans were quiet about this while Reagan and both Bushes were ramming up debts and deficits).

    In doing so, Republicans totally missed the most obvious and correct line of attack against the stimulus bill.

    Widespread support for the bill seems to be rooted in a sort of pseudo-Keynesianism. Keynesian theory, following the ideas of the British economist John Maynard Keynes, which advocates massive deficit spending when the economy is in a crisis and unemployment is high, was applied to a small extent in the New Deal. A small number of wingnuts will tell you that the New Deal made things worse and lengthened the Great Depression; the overwhelming majority of economists disagree, and contend that, if anything, the problem was that the New Deal wasn’t Keynesian enough.

    One Keynesian adage is that, in a time of crisis, the government should pay people to dig holes and fill them up again. Of course, if digging holes doesn’t seem like a useful way to spend government money, then workers can be paid to do something productive instead, like improve schools or weatherize homes.

    The stimulus package has been compared to the New Deal by more than one analyst. But Keynesian theory doesn’t advocate large amounts of government spending willy-nilly any time the economy is in a rough patch. Debatably, unemployment may not be high enough for this sort of fiscal policy to be useful; Keynes himself would probably agree that monetary policy, not fiscal policy, is an appropriate tool during this type of recession.

    This sort of nuanced argument could have been intelligently used to argue against the stimulus – and it’s the main reason I’m a bit skeptical of it. But nuance is totally lost on today’s congressional Republicans, who wish instead to proceed with their religious crusade for tax cuts and against common sense.

    It remains to be seen whether injecting billions into the economy will actually help fix things, and it’s every American’s responsibility to hold President Obama’s feet to the fire, using Web sites like recovery.gov to ensure that the money is being spent wisely. But doing so intelligently, not rabidly, is the only way Republicans will avoid slipping totally into obsolescence in the coming years.

    -ÿTaylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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