Monday, February 22, 2010

Economic Recovery: How Washington Sees It vs. How Nevada Sees It

The difference couldn't be any more stark. In Washington, Senators are bickering over "partisanship"... No, scratch that. They're really just in another power struggle!

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is likely to face increasing mutiny from fellow Democrats in the wake of Indiana U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s surprising decision to retire, political analysts say.

The announcement last week by Bayh, D-Ind., once widely favored to win re-election, has shaken the 59 members of the Democratic Caucus and threatens to create an “every senator for him- or herself” mentality that could weaken Reid’s ability to lead, political scientists predict. [...]

“I think the problem Harry Reid has now is holding his caucus together,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno and a registered Republican. “The irony is that both wings of his caucus could become more strident, with liberals demanding that he move to the left, and more moderate senators saying: ’You’re killing me in my home state. I can’t go with you on this one, Harry.’ Reid is caught in the middle.”

Now obviously, there's some hyperbole with this RGJ piece. After all, the headline warns of "rebellion!" and the story speaks of "mutiny!" OK... So we'll soon be hearing of gun fights and outbreak of (another) civil war?

Still, there has been real rancor in DC lately. And as always, it seems like a number of the folks on Capitol Hill are more concerned about their own egos than delivering any real accomplishments.

Already, Harry Reid is having to deal with this as he tries to win over whatever GOP votes are available for the jobs bill. Yes, the Republicans may even try to filibuster away job help!

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has been trying to round up a few Republican votes for his version of a jobs bill,after he surprised the Senate and the White House by jettisoning many elements of a bipartisan proposal that had some momentum.

Mr. Reid’s $15 billion plan includes four central elements of that proposal, including a payroll tax exemption for companies that hire unemployed workers, but he dropped billions of dollars in business tax breaks and other extraneous initiatives.

Whether Mr. Reid can prevail remains uncertain and he now needs at least two Republicans to join Democrats to overcome any Republican opposition since Senator Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat who was taken ill last week, is not expected to be present and voting.

In a warning to those intending to block the bill, Mr. Reid’s aides have let it be known that a Republican filibuster of his jobs plan does not mean that he will then turn around and offer the earlier bipartisan version. But just exactly what he will do is not clear. [...]

With Democrats intensifying their criticism of Republicans for opposing almost all legislation and erecting procedural hurdles even to measures and nominees they ultimately support, [Senate Minority Leader] McConnell [R-Kentucky] was also a bit defensive over suggestions that Republicans are simply tying up Washington.

Even when it comes to important work on bringing about economic recovery, it's all about political gamesmanship for some in Washington.

And apparently, all the political games getting all the media attention hasn't helped in getting Nevadans to understand what last year's stimulus package has been doing to bring on economic recovery.

The stimulus gave a significant tax cut to most people; it stabilized state budgets, including Nevada’s to the tune of a $1 billion, which prevented layoffs of thousands of teachers and saved hospitals that would have cratered in the face of a steep cut in Medicaid reimbursements; it provided money for extended unemployment benefits; and, it set in motion infrastructure projects, including a recently announced $34 million for a bus rapid transit line on Sahara Avenue.

Although the job losses have largely stopped, companies haven’t begun hiring again, so most Americans aren’t feeling very good about their economic prospects. [...]

So, not surprisingly, the stimulus doesn’t poll well. A CNN poll showed 56 percent disapprove.

But here’s the paradox: By wide margins, as high as 80 percent, Americans favor the provisions of the bill, including money for the unemployed, infrastructure spending and tax cuts.

As [Rep. Dina] Titus [D-Henderson] noted, however, the marketing of the bill has been less than stellar.

“No, we did not do a good job,” she said.

“People have forgotten it included the big tax break, they have forgotten the $250 check if you’re on Social Security or a veteran. Those aspects were not played up enough. And then money for the state — look where the state would be without it. Then there’s the continuation of unemployment benefits at a time when Nevada is second to Michigan” in unemployment.

Then Titus reiterated her point: “No, we didn’t do a good job selling it.”

And I'd add that it's become difficult to even "sell it" when talk of the stimulus often deteriorates to complete lies and distortions.

She noted many Americans mistakenly think the stimulus package and the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — the bank bailout — are the same thing.

Titus is right. More than half of Americans think stimulus money went to help “bankers and investors,” according to the CNN poll. Which, aside from tax cuts that nearly all Americans received, is untrue.

For Titus, that’s doubly cruel: She wasn’t even in Congress when the first round of TARP money was approved, and then she voted against the second round.

For the Republicans, it makes perfect sense to "pass the buck" on TARP (which remember, was proposed by George Bush before he left office in 2008) onto President Obama and confuse the stimulus with TARP so that it's easier to just rail against "bailouts" and enrage the teabagger "masses" (more like a few small conspiracy kook crowds, but the media prefer big stories of "controversy" and "epic conflict" to real facts).

One of my all-time favorite bloggers, Desert Beacon, tackled the whole "stimulus issue" on Friday and looked through the spin to discover the facts.

The Republicans are certainly trying to drum in the message: "The Stimulus Bill hasn't created a single job." [TP] As has been that Party's practice, the message is phrased in highly generalized terms, as a blanket indictment of federal spending, without noting the specifics. One small specific from the Nevada State Health Division is instructive.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (Stimulus Bill) paid for a $46, 232 supplement to the " Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) original $76,743 allotted in the FFY10 budget for ambulatory center surgery inspections bringing the total to $ 109,991. The additional ARRA funding will support the inspection of 13 ambulatory surgical centers, with a new CMS survey process that uses an infection control tool developed in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)." [NSHD pdf]

If memory serves Nevada experienced a Hepatitis C outbreak in 2008 related to inspection issues? In May 2008, the Sparks Tribune reported: "Of the 50 ambulatory surgery centers now being inspected for unsafe practices by the state Bureau of Licensure and Certification, 22 haven’t had recertification surveys within a six-year time frame. In one case, the gap was 15 years. Twenty-one others haven’t been open long enough to have had a six-year inspection." With the cut backs in agency budgets currently under consideration, is it really rational to lash out at funding that supported someone inspecting another 13 ambulatory surgical centers?

There are larger pieces that receive wider public support, like spending on infrastructure. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act included $144 billion for public infrastructure projects, and the level of public support was significant. USNWR reported: "A national poll released today (Jan. '09) shows that 94 percent of Americans support a national effort to build up the country's infrastructure. Meanwhile, 81 percent of Americans say they are prepared to pay 1 percent more in federal taxes to support infrastructure projects." There was another important item in the polling just cited.

"One caveat in the support for infrastructure spending, however, is how the projects are developed. More than half of Americans in the poll say that either the accountability or the transparency of the projects is their most important consideration in public works spending. That's three times more than those who say that achieving "measurable results" is their top priority." So, people placed "accountability and transparency" at a much level of concern than "measurable results," and they got it. However, one can't have it both ways; either the money gets spent quickly with less accounting or the money gets spent more slowly with more accounting. Fast or slowly, Nevada is getting $ 270,010,945 for infrastructure and public transit funding under the Stimulus Bill. [CBS] Are the Republicans really opposed to cash-strapped Nevada getting $270 million in public transportation and infrastructure funding? There are construction jobs to be paid for and the state budget isn't where those are going to be found.

So we are getting money. Just remember that it took so damned long because "Luv-Guv Gibbons" wanted to start a fight over who would have ultimate control over the stimulus funds. And obviously, that was much more important to him than actually setting up the needed tracking tools (to meet the transparency and accountability requirements) to receive those stimulus funds.

But hey, at least we're getting the money now. And we're seeing results. It's just that the Republicans don't want us to know that it's stimulus funds at work while the Democrats are busy trying to push the jobs bill in DC to bring back some more needed help and apply it directly to the unemployment crisis we're still facing.

So I can understand why a number of our neighbors are confused over what was done last year to promote economic recovery and what's being done this year to create more jobs. When all the media attention is on partisan and inter-party flame wars and ego stroking, it's hard to see how our government is doing us any good. But when we look beyond the petty politics and look at how the policy is being put to use here in Nevada and elsewhere throughout the country, we can start to get a better picture of how it's really working.

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