Kill the Bill

The Democrats’ pork bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate later today. Public support for the measure has been plummeting as voters have learned what the bill includes. President Obama is trying to stir up hysteria, arguing that the bill must be passed immediately. Since the overwhelming majority of spending in the bill won’t occur until after 2009, the hurry has more to do with the Democrats’ deteriorating political situation than with America’s deteriorating economy.

Politico acknowldges the obvious, that Obama is “losing the stimulus message war,” but fails to articulate the obvious reason: the Democrats’ bill is simply awful. As more and more Americans realize that fact, support for the bill dwindles; hence the hurry to vote today.

The biggest danger at this point is that moderate Republicans will collaborate with the Democrats in making immaterial changes in the bill that will give Obama and the Democrats a veneer of “bipartisanship” and thereby protect them from the wrath of the voters. There are indications that this is exactly what is happening:

Anxious over the ballooning size of the proposed economic stimulus package, now at more than $900 billion, lawmakers in both parties are working on a last-minute plan to strip tens of billions of dollars from the bill.

Likewise, Senator Kent Conrad said on Fox News this morning:

CONRAD: No, I think this bill really needs to be improved for it to enjoy the kind of support that is needed. And we hope through this day to improve it today by cutting out some of the more egregious provisions and substituting things, reallocating resources to higher priorities like housing, where we continue to see a dramatic increase in foreclosures that continues to threaten the economy even further. …

We’ve been working with a bipartisan group — Republicans and Democrats — we’ve been working through the last week trying to come up with a package to cut out $50 to $80 billion that’s in the package, reallocate some of it for housing.

Changes of that magnitude would be essentially cosmetic. There are many good ideas for how Congress can address current economic problems. One obvious possibility is to strip everything out of the bill that is not short-term stimulus–the large majority of the legislation’s provisions–and vote on those spending proposals later, on their own merits. Various Republicans have excellent ideas for more effective legislation that will not load another trillion dollars in debt on our children’s backs.

But for any good legislation to be enacted, the predicate is that the Democrats’ terrible bill must be defeated. Republicans should hold firm and not settle for the stripping out of a few of the bill’s most egregious pork projects. If they do, it is quite possible that the bill may not pass. If it does, the Democrats will have to take responsibility for the consequences. Senate Republicans should not take them off the hook.

UPDATE: Dick Durbin says, “We need a handful of Republican senators to make it happen. That’s the reality of the numbers.” Meanwhile, CNN reports that “voters [are] angrily jamming phone lines on Capitol Hill to air their frustrations to their elected representatives.” If the Republicans can’t put two and two together on this one, is there any hope for them?

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