2021-09-14 12:44:31 The $3.5 Trillion Question – The New York Times
The $3.5 Trillion Question – The New York Times
President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill was both an economic and a political success. The law, which was passed in the midst of a financial crisis, combined tax cuts and government spending to help prevent another Great Depression.
Within a few weeks of the law’s passage, stocks began to rise, and the economy began to grow within a few months. Nonetheless, voters never gave Obama or congressional Democrats much credit.
For much of his first term, his approval ratings plummeted, and Republicans swept the 2010 midterm elections. Part of the problem was that the bill was smaller than Obama had hoped, at the request of congressional moderates, and the post-crisis economic recovery was slow.
However, the bill had another political flaw. It was a jumble of hundreds of policies, only a few of which had a significant impact on Americans’ lives. Can you think of a single lasting legacy of the law — a new bridge or airport built by the law, or a new government program created by the law?
Most likely not. The law represented a triumph of technocratic policymaking as well as a failure of real-world politics. It exemplified what political scientist Suzanne Mettler refers to as the “submerged state.”
Mettler’s book of the same name, published in 2011, is subtitled “How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy.” Of course, Joe Biden, then-Vice President, was by Obama’s side during the debate over the 2009 stimulus package.
Biden, who had just left the Senate after 36 years, aided in the negotiations. As Biden attempts to pass the most ambitious legislation of his presidency, it is clear that he has come to believe that the submerged state is a problem for the Democratic Party and the country.
It is less clear whether he will avoid or repeat Obama’s missed opportunity. There are two camps. Congressional Democrats and the White House are currently negotiating the contents of a massive piece of legislation that they hope to pass this fall.
The bill’s original framework, favored by Biden and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, included universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, expanded child care, paid family leave, child tax credits, Medicare and Medicaid expansions, and funding for clean energy.
However, moderate Democrats prefer a smaller package with less government spending, as happened in 2009. Some Democrats are also concerned about either raising the funds required to pay for the bill (via tax increases on the wealthy and corporations) or adding to the deficit.
As a result, Democrats are being forced to make difficult decisions about what should remain in the plan, which had an initial cost of $3.5 trillion spread over ten years.
These choices, in turn, have resulted in disagreements that do not fall along predictable ideological lines, but rather along what I call technocratic/realpolitik lines. Those Democrats, including many on the left, who favor a cost-benefit analysis are included in the technocratic camp.
They want to do the most good and help the most people possible with the resources they have. One example: expanding Obamacare to include lower-income people in the 12 states (most of which are Republican-controlled) that have refused to expand Medicaid on their own.
Many of these people lack health insurance and are unable to obtain basic medical care. Another policy that Democrats are considering is expanding federal subsidies that assist middle-class families in purchasing private health insurance through Obamacare.
The emphasis in the realpolitik camp is different. While they continue to support Obamacare expansions, these Democrats are concerned that the party will repeat the mistakes of the Obama years if it focuses on improvements to complex bureaucratic programs.
This side can draw inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was often ruthless in assessing the political salience of his policies. When Roosevelt rebuffed one economic adviser’s advice about the structure of some new taxes, he said, “I guess you’re right on the economics.”
They are political all the way.” Senator Bernie Sanders is a member of the realpolitik camp, and he favors expanding Medicare, partly because he sees it as a popular, easy-to-understand program that will both help the poor and serve as the foundation for truly universal health care.
Medicaid does not fit that description. “We have to explain to the American people what we’re doing here for them,” Sanders said during a recent Midwest tour to promote the Biden program, “and it can’t just be an inside-the-Beltway process.”
Biden is of the same mind. According to The Washington Post, “Biden is pushing programs whose benefits voters can easily understand, such as universal prekindergarten and free community college.” For similar reasons, he favors drug price reductions.
“The president is focused on having government deliver in a way that people can see and feel in their lives,” said Mike Donilon, a top Biden aide. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, and both will undoubtedly influence the final bill.
But, in a sprawling plan that already lacks focus — the most common ways to describe it are process-oriented terms like “the $3.5 trillion bill” or “the reconciliation bill” — the Democrats appear to be at greater risk of paying too little attention to political realities.
Democrats are unlikely to retain control of the levers of federal policymaking for long if they pass a bill that voters do not understand. New York Fashion Week combines the old and the new. This past weekend marked the end of New York Fashion Week.
Tinkling music played as models floated across a sculpture-adorned courtyard in shimmering gowns at the Rodarte show on Saturday. There were mushroom-printed silk dresses that billowed like parachutes, as well as embroidered flowers, shells, and a cape with a sequined alien.
Models walked out barefoot in simple, neutral looks for the finale, the last one holding a succulent. Vanessa Friedman, The Times’ chief fashion critic, wrote about the “growing fault line” between the city’s older, well-established brands and newer labels with more raw and socially conscious sensibilities in a review of the week’s final shows.
Many of the week’s highlights were debuts by younger brands, such as Peter Do’s debut show, which featured finely tailored suits and elegant coats. Collina Strada piled layers of colorful, upcycled materials onto models who ran, skipped, and held hands on a rooftop garden.
Poodles pranced alongside models in LaQuan Smith’s glitzy show at the Empire State Building. Vanessa wrote, “The clothes that seemed most relevant spoke not in a generic form of sunny-side-up glamour, but in a primal assertion of difference.”
Morning writer Sanam Yar PLAY, SEE, AND EAT What to Prepare This quick lunch is built on a solid foundation of crispy, cheesy tortillas. Art Henri Matisse included miniature versions of his previous paintings and sculptures in “The Red Studio.”
For the first time, the painting will be displayed alongside the works it depicts at MoMA. The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee could be fixed. You can play today’s puzzle online or here. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, along with a hint: What’s up? (Two letters) If you want to play more, you can find all of our games here.
Thank you for taking the time to read The Times this morning. I’ll see you tomorrow. — David P.S. President William McKinley died 120 years ago today at 2:15 a.m., more than a week after being shot by an assassin.
Later that day, his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in. Here’s the front page of today’s newspaper. “The Daily” is a show about nursing homes in America. Colson Whitehead appears on “The Ezra Klein Show.”