A Darn Good First Step
By Bernie Horn
February 12, 2009 - 1:01am ET
Congress is about to send to President Barack Obama the biggest and boldest progressive legislation of the past 40 years.
* At nearly $790 billion, it is historically big. As the conservatives keep saying, "it is the largest spending bill in United States history." The New York Times calls it "the most expansive unleashing of the government’s fiscal firepower in the face of a recession since World War II." Under the circumstances, that's precisely what America needs.
* In one fell swoop, Obama and the Democrats will spend substantially more money on good progressive causes than has been spent on the entire war in Iraq. (The Iraq war has cost $656 billion from 2003 to date.)
* The biggest corporate tax cut passed by the House and Senate was slashed from the conference bill. As a result, total corporate tax breaks in the bill comprise only about one percent of the money spent—virtually a miracle on Capitol Hill.
* The bill contains no earmarks at all, and it includes unprecedented measures to ensure accountability and transparency.
It’s a darn good bill. President Obama and congressional Democrats should be proud, and we should be proud of them.
Obama pushed members of Congress to spend about $800 billion, and they did.
Obama asked them to focus on creating or saving 3 to 4 million jobs, and they have.
Obama asked Congress to send him the bill by Presidents’ Day, and they will.
Is the bill perfect? Of course not! The biggest problem with the legislation is that it’s just not big enough to solve the massive problems caused by George W. Bush and the failure of his conservative economic policies.
America needs to spend a lot more money to create jobs, lift the economy out of recession, and repair America’s badly-neglected infrastructure. But we knew that all along. This bill is not the last step, it is the first.
In fact, it’s not even the first. Last week President Obama signed into law a $33 billion expansion of the children’s health insurance program (SCHIP). Add that to the economic recovery package and it’s more than $820 billion spent. And we haven’t even started on next year’s budget.
After just 23 days on the job, here are the highlights of what Barack Obama has accomplished:
CLEAN ENERGY: About $70 billion to begin the effort toward energy independence and to combat global warming, including: $30 billion for a smart power grid, advanced battery technology, and energy efficiency measures; $20 billion for renewable energy and efficiency tax incentives; $5 billion for weatherization of modest-income homes; and $6.3 billion for energy efficiency in federally-supported housing.
AID TO THE NEEDY: $40 billion to expand and improve unemployment benefits. $20 billion to increase food stamp benefits. $14 billion for Social Security recipients, poor people on Supplemental Security Income, and veterans receiving disability and pensions. $4.6 billion to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.
INFRASTRUCTURE: $46 billion for transportation projects, including $29 billion for roads and bridges, $8.4 billion for mass transit, and $8 billion for high-speed rail. $4.6 billion for flood control. $6.4 billion for clean drinking water projects. $7 billion to bring broadband Internet service to underserved areas.
HEALTH CARE: $21 billion to subsidize health insurance for the unemployed. $87 billion to help states pay for Medicaid. $19 billion to modernize health information technology. $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health.
EDUCATION: $54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts, including funds for school repairs. $26 billion to school districts to fund special education and Title I schools. $17 billion to boost the maximum Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350. $2 billion for Head Start. $13 billion to provide a $2,500 expanded tax credit for college tuition.
MIDDLE CLASS TAX REDUCTION: $115 billion for $400 per-worker, $800 per-couple tax credits in 2009 and 2010. $70 billion to adjust the Alternative Minimum Tax. (For those who, like me, think this provision went overboard, it will undoubtedly be revisited in the next year or two.)
As my colleague Bill Scher put it, it’s time for Congress to quickly “Pass This Deal. Then Get Back To Work.” To encourage Congress along, please contact your Senators and Representative by clicking here.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the recent book, Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People.
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