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Coddling Coburn: And sabotaging our future potential …

February 6th, 2009 · No Comments

Early this afternoon, the Senate overwhelming passed an amendment to the Stimulus package from Senator Coburn. We need to be Going Green to make green, and improving the stimulus package. Instead, the Republican and conservative D Senate have driven changes that progressively worsened an already not aggressive enough, not as effective economically as it could be, and clearly not green enough House bill.

Let us take a moment to look at this Coburn amendment. Let us take this at face value:

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.

Let’s roll the dice and say that this is more about image than any substantive concerns over stimulative effects of bill’s spending.

Republicans have pushed tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts for years. However, as is clearly shown in this Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, tax cuts are the least effective path to stimulate economic activity.

To be clear, paying people to dig holes and then paying others to fill them in would have more stimulative impact than all the tax cuts the Republicans have managed to get into the bill under the ‘bipartisan’ label (and then not vote for the overall package). As Keynes wrote

“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.”

Yes, it would be more sensible.

Thus, is this bill about “sensible”. To be honest, upfront, I’m not really into providing taxpayer support for gambling establishments, but that restriction was already in the House bill. And, even that would be far more effective at stimulating the economy. But, not funding Dude ranches, houses of ill-repute, gambling establishments — okay, Tom, I can go along with that.

But, parks, musuems, theaters … and other elements of social infrastructure?

Over 70 years ago, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) (truth in advertising, my very conservative Republican grandfather was a director of CCC projects which he, to his dying day, believes was an action to be emulated even in good times) helped create the infrastructure of America’s national parks. Immediate stimulative activity amid the depression, giving people jobs (and honor) while providing tangible things that have served literally generations of people. “Community park” is on the banned list from funding? Putting in playgrounds for children, helping to strengthen the local social fabric is unacceptable for Republican Senator Tom Coburn and, well, far too many Democratic Senators (see vote below).

Coburn argued in a 3 February WSJ OPED

One of the lessons I’ve learned from the practice of medicine is the danger of treating symptoms rather than the disease. Doing so makes the disease worse and causes the symptoms to come back with a vengeance. It’s time for government to quit masking the symptoms and deal with this crisis at its source: toxic assets in the mortgage market and a federal government that continues to pollute our economy with pork and failed interventionist policies

One has to wonder at Coburn’s sanity and connection to reality if he can write this after the failures of the Bush-Cheney-Republican tax-cutting frenzy.

But, let’s take a look at one of these banned items.

Want to stimulate in a long-term benefit way, I’ll take an item that was already prohibited in the House language: “swimming pool”.

Think about something for a moment: how many public (and semi-public: YMCA) swimming pools are open (and, thus, heated) in winter? Any community or school pool near you? Solar Hot water for swimming pools is perhaps the fastest payoff for an active solar system. For Florida pools, payoff ranges (dependent on systems) 1.5 to 7.0 years (from 10 – 45% annual ROI). In British Columbia, a 25-meter public pool’s solar system has a four-year (about 17% per year) payback. The payoff for installing them: dependent on region, between 1.5 to 7 years, without any form of solar power subsidy required to get that payoff. Real money for jobs in a way to substitute renewable for polluting power in a highly cost-efficient manner.

Of course, much better to funnel money into non-productive tax cuts which will have less impact on simply paying people to dig holes and others to fill them in. And, in that scenario, unlike the Bush-Cheney-Republican mismanagement of the economy (and everything else), at least the digging stops and the holes get filled in.

The Voting

The Coburn Amendment passed 73-24. No Republicans voting against. Here are the Democratic votes. Reminder that no Republicans voting against this, but it would not have passed without Democratic Party supporters. (Note, that still, Republicans define “bipartisanship” as Democrats voting for Republican failed ideas.) Unless there is something here that I simply don’t understand, these Senators have explaining to do on this (and, well, on far too much as well).

Baucus (D-MT), Yea
Bayh (D-IN), Yea
Begich (D-AK), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Yea
Bingaman (D-NM), Yea
Brown (D-OH), Yea
Byrd (D-WV), Yea
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
Dorgan (D-ND), Yea
Feingold (D-WI), Yea
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Kohl (D-WI), Yea
Lincoln (D-AR), Yea
McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
Merkley (D-OR), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Nelson (D-NE), Yea
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Tester (D-MT), Yea
Udall (D-CO), Yea
Udall (D-NM), Yea
Warner (D-VA), Yea

The 24 Nays:

Akaka (D-HI)
Boxer (D-CA)
Burris (D-IL)
Dodd (D-CT)
Durbin (D-IL)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Kaufman (D-DE)
Kerry (D-MA)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (CFL-CT)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

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