Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Centrists are blocking progress to repair the damage they helped inflict

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Originally published on on Thu, 02/12/2009 – 10:27am

When I was a child, one of the more philosophical questions we asked was “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?”

The answer turned out to be 3. But the quest proves that we are anxious to get to the center. Think about a jelly donut: the jelly isn’t on the outside, it’s in the center. Those fancy chocolates in the box where you don’t know what you are actually eating until you bite it: the center is the best. And pizza lovers would rather have the center than the edges.

But when it comes to Congress, the center is bland with very little flavor and brings the experience down to a basic level. The center of Congress is like having only one ice cream flavor: vanilla. Or like having only one TV network, and Jay Leno is on half the time.

The damage that the center of Congress has done to the stimulus package is appalling. There is the reduction of money. After all, when the House bill is $820 billion and the Senate bill is $838 billion, the compromise is $829 billion, not the actual figure of $789 billion, a difference of $40 billion. This isn’t a compromise; this is a slice from that pizza hitting the ground, topping side down.

This isn’t just moderate Republicans that took unnecessary cuts into this package. Conservative Democrats can take their share of the credit. Watching Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on television this week was depressing.

Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General and the founder and co-President of the Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger, was one of those smart people on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last night. Sachs talked about how we have a $2 trillion hole in demand, and how we are trying to fill that hole with a $800 billion (now even less) package. Still leaves a lot of room, probably in the center of our problems.

Especially since school construction was one area where the centrists used their bowie knives and hatchets. We build things that improve our children’s education, and we have a pressing need for this work. That is a good thing, but not to the centrists. And state aid, since virtually every state is several billion in debt — centrists didn’t like that either.

This exercise in malpractice wouldn’t be as bad, except we didn’t have this kind of concern when the Bush people and Henry Paulson came by and said, “$700 billion or else.” Where were the centrists’ knives in that episode? In fact, to pass the damn bill, Congress stepped up and said, “No, we don’t want to spend $700 billion, we want to spend $850 billion.”

We have one bad piece of legislation, knife-free, and add $150 billion in earmarks to make them happy. Then we have a good piece of legislation with no earmarks, and we see the glimmer of light from the reflection of multiple knives.

Then we have the breakdown of the $789 billion: if every penny went to stimulus, to spending, it would meet less than 40% of the overall need. But the $300 million or so in tax cuts, which are not stimulative, introduced as a centrist move, brings the low 40% mark to less than 25% of the overall need.

Democracy experts could argue that sometimes centrists have a necessary role in making sure extreme legislation doesn’t go through. But last fall’s TARP bailout didn’t get that oversight. The economic mess that we are in didn’t get that oversight. When we go to fix the damage caused by this mess, the centrists have to get involved.

Let’s make a deal, centrists. Do your annoying magic all the time or none of the time. Be constantly involved or get out of the way.


Written by democracysoup

February 12, 2009 at 10:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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