The politics of stimulus

By: Dan Juneau

During the last decade, Republican members of Congress have taken a beating in elections around the country. In most instances, those who lost elections – or whose vacant seats were turned over – were replaced by Democrats who proclaimed to be moderate or conservative.

Most of those Democrats belong to the “Blue Dog” coalition. The hallmark of this caucus is their self-proclaimed strong belief in conservative fiscal policies. The Blue Dogs could hold the balance of power in the House, especially on budgetary issues – if they were willing to buck their liberal leadership and occasionally join with Republicans.

The Blue Dogs recently had such an opportunity. On January 27, the House voted on the resolution that would allow the leadership’s “stimulus” bill to come to the floor. Most of the Blue Dogs felt the bill contained entirely too much spending and was out of line with what President Obama claimed he wanted in a stimulus package. Had most of the Blue Dogs voted against the resolution, the bill would have gone back to the drawing board along with a clear message to Speaker Pelosi and her leadership that a more conservative approach was needed. The Blue Dogs would have served the nation well by taking such an action and would have put Speaker Pelosi on notice that they were a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, as has happened numerous times in the past, when push came to shove, the Blue Dogs stayed on the porch.

The massive spending bill ($1.2 trillion if you count the interest on the borrowing, which certainly is a legitimate element to count) was passed without a single Republican vote and with only 11 Democrats opposing it. It is the total property of the Democrats. If it does what they claim it will do, they can take the credit. If it doesn’t create four million jobs, if it doesn’t begin to immediately jumpstart the economy, and if it only leads to bigger government and super-inflation, they will shoulder the blame.

That must be an uncomfortable thought for many of the Blue Dogs. Their constituents are certainly concerned about the health of the economy and the security of their jobs. But most of them aren’t likely to believe adding greatly to the size of government (financed through more borrowing) is going to improve the economy to any appreciable degree. That is a dilemma for the Blue Dogs, since the one thing certain about the House passed version of the bill is it will greatly expand government and pay for the expansion by burdening future generations. The champions of “pay-go” (not allowing any tax cut or increased spending without paying for it with budget reductions or new taxes) went for the biggest increase in deficit spending in history because they couldn’t stand up to their liberal leadership.

If the Democratic stimulus bill doesn’t work, the Blue Dogs have a problem. If their constituents are taxed later to pay for this extravagance, they have a larger problem. If inflation soars when the economy starts to rebound because the “stimulus” wasn’t designed to work immediately, they have a lot of explaining to do.

The most vulnerable Democrats are those who come from districts that were held previously by Republicans. To remain in good standing with their fiscally conservative constituents, they can’t simply talk a good game in Washington. They lost an opportunity to shape a more conservative approach on the stimulus, and they may live to regret not having the courage to stand up for what they say they championed.

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