Is a Good Enough Stimulus Good Enough?

Seems like the 787 billion dollar American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus package Congress has passed and sent to the President’s desk is just good enough. Though notable for its size, it doesn’t advance bold initiatives that could define Obama’s presidency, nor does it grapple with big, confounding issues like universal health care. It’s incremental rather than transformational. But it’s good enough to mind-shift us into a more optimistic view of the short term economy and to offer real help to many hurt by the downturn.

(If you want a quick look at how we’re going to spend 787 billion, see this chart. That sounds like “real money“, but it’s amazing how quickly it goes when you break it down–well, incrementally. For a more detailed summary, the Center for Law and Social Policy provides descriptions and tables with estimated state-by-state impacts of key provisions. Read that full report here.)

Though many economists say the package isn’t big enough, and feminists wonder whether it does enough to build the human infrastructure, Republicans are predictably squealing it’s too big and too diffuse. This despite all the effort Obama went to to engage and appease his Republican colleagues. I thought by now he would have learned the hooker principle (get paid first) and not have expended so much political capital trying to win over those who want only to create campaign issues with which to wrest back Congressional seats in 2010 and take the White House away from him in 2012. (Remember Newt and the Contract on America in 1994?)

I mean, caving to objections over a simple provision to reduce bureaucracy for states wanting to expand their Medicaid family planning programs was simply gratuitous political theater with a high ticket price. He has now framed birth control as “controversial”, despite its approval and usage by over 90% of Americans, and this will come back to haunt him when women’s groups start pushing him to deliver on promised family planning legislation such as the Prevention First Act.

But then, where were the women’s groups who should have stopped this silliness in the first place? They were with everyone else on the progressive to middle political scale, cutting Obama the slack a new president deserves, especially during crisis times.

On the plus side for Obama, perceptions about a leader’s prowess have as much to do with timing and the cushion of good will with which he/she is surrounded upon ascending to office as with actual performance. He’s riding high in the polls, and George Bush left things so bad that, with the exception of the Limbaugh-like loyalists, almost everyone is grateful for any forward movement.

Surely, this stimulus package is an important step forward, and it was accomplished with alacrity during the dawning days of the new administration. It shores up, pumps up, cheers up. It’s going to give relief to many low-and moderate-income families and help states avert drastic shortfalls in their budgets while saving major institutions. These are not small matters.

But courageous leadership isn’t just incremental. The New Deal was transformational. It changed government structure while building national infrastructure. Obama was swept into office in large part because voters saw him as a visionary who could transform and take the nation to qualitatively greater heights.

So let us give great credit to him for leading Congress and public opinion to embrace the current economic stimulus. That’s good enough for starters.

But onward now to universal health care, world class education, green and clean energy self-sufficiency, global leadership in women’s equality and human rights, and technological and scientific innovation that will fuel the next economic boom.


  1. Mark Salo on February 17, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Gloria: Watching the stimulus votes from afar, I couldn’t help but think
    that the Republican party has finally found its own voice. Indeed, no
    new ideas but a new voice nonetheless.

    The voice is “No!” “No!” to everything Obama proposes. They will allow
    a vote or two to pass legislation they know the country
    wants…legislation they would have voted for if Bush were still
    President. Legislation they must let pass…If the legislation didn’t
    pass, they would get the public blame for obstructing it, so a vote or
    two in favor will do.

    The strategy is elegant if not cynical. If the policy fails, they were
    against it. If it succeeds, they can claim it would have done better if
    the administration had just listened to their concerns. Already,
    Republican members of congress who voted against the “Stimulus package”
    are claiming credit at home for district jobs and pork that they
    negotiated for and then voted against. Nice work if you can get it.
    Obama is a quick study and I expect that has already figured this out.
    He said, yesterday that he may be an optimist, but he is not a Sap.

    I think we can expect at least four years of 60-40 votes in the Senate
    and zero Republican votes in the House. That way the Dems and President
    Obama get to own 99% of every failure…and condemnaton by faint praise
    for any success…brilliant!

    Already the Republican members of Congress are oozing with
    self-satisfaction over finding their voice.

    • Gloria Feldt on February 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm

      As I said in the post, this is so reminiscent of 1994. I hope the Democrats learned the lessons from that. Perhaps Obama is equally brilliant and is letting the Republicans hang themselves. But that can only happen if he and the Democrats will call them on it.

  2. Michael Druckman on February 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    This is not a stimulus bill. Thsi is in fact the largest government take over since the New Deal. $650 Million for cupons to change to digital TV. $335 million for the education of STD’s You liberals have lost all common sense. I could go on for hours but AI lack the time.
    As far as your coments about the sham of a bipartician bill. These can be detailed by the speakers comments that ” We won the electtion, we wrote the bill. This legislation will damage the country for ever.

  3. Is Geithner good for Obama? | GLORIA FELDT on August 8, 2011 at 11:33 am

    […] been writing about Obama’s leadership problems since the start of his administration: “Is a Good Enough Stimulus Good Enough?” To be fair, many of the constituency groups that supported him have been complicit in not holding […]

  4. special offer code on February 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Straight to the point and well written! Why can’t everyone else be like this?

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