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President Obama Fires Up House Democrats On Stimulus Bill

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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Republican Stimulus Package: Motivate the Poor to Enrich the Wealthy

By Austin Cline
Jesus' General


People have been amazed at the Republican reactions to the stimulus packaged proposed by Obama and supported by most Democrats. It's one thing to have differences of opinion about where stimulus spending would be best directed and how to best manage a stimulus effort, but it's another to deny that we should have any stimulus spending at all. The Republican decision to almost unanimously support dropping all spending provisions in favor of nothing but tax cuts which benefit primarily the rich has been described as "insane," but that's wrong I think.

This move makes plenty of sense in the context of contemporary Republican principles and values and is in fact entirely consistent with a wide variety of Republican positions. Everything should come into focus if you look at one fundamental, underlying principle: fear. Specifically, it's all about creating, promoting, and sustaining fear in what's left of America's working and middle classes. A general, ambiguous, amorphous sort of fear is great because it can be directed in just about any direction which politicians need, but the particular fears which are at issue here are the fear of losing one's job and income, fear of losing health insurance, fear of losing one's home, fear of losing one's social status, etc.

Why is it important to create and sustain fear? Well, part of it is simply a matter of taking advantage of a good opportunity: the economic crisis is putting a lot of people out of work, cutting a lot of wages, and making the those left with any work worried about the future. This fear makes people with work and seeking work far more submissive to any demands imposed on them by the owners of capital who now have far more options about how to fill the few remaining job slots. If you want too much money, too many days off, or too much health insurance, then you can be more easily replaced now than you could have been a year or two ago. If the owners of capital want to siphon off more profit for themselves from your labor, this is the perfect opportunity.

This will have long-term potential because once people are afraid, they will remain afraid for a while after the reasons for fear have changed. Workers can be kept in a more subservient position even after the economy has recovered and they can be paid more. What Republicans therefore need is to ensure that the recession or even depression lasts long enough — if it's too short, people won't be as afraid and won't remain afraid for as long. The economy will probably recover eventually one way or the other, but if Obama's stimulus package has any hope of helping soon, it has to be opposed. In the interim, tax cuts for the wealthy owners of capital are necessary to ensure that they weather the storm well enough to keep up their campaign contributions to Republicans....(Click for remainder).

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What the centrists have wrought

By Paul Krugman
The Conscience of a Liberal Blog @ The New York Times


I’m still working on the numbers, but I’ve gotten a fair number of requests for comment on the Senate version of the stimulus.

The short answer: to appease the centrists, a plan that was already too small and too focused on ineffective tax cuts has been made significantly smaller, and even more focused on tax cuts.

According to the CBO’s estimates, we’re facing an output shortfall of almost 14% of GDP over the next two years, or around $2 trillion. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are even more pessimistic. So the original $800 billion plan was too small, especially because a substantial share consisted of tax cuts that probably would have added little to demand. The plan should have been at least 50% larger.

Now the centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan. In particular, aid to state governments, which are in desperate straits, is both fast — because it prevents spending cuts rather than having to start up new projects — and effective, because it would in fact be spent; plus state and local governments are cutting back on essentials, so the social value of this spending would be high. But in the name of mighty centrism, $40 billion of that aid has been cut out....(Click for remainder).

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Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets

By John Schwartz
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.

In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election....(Click for remainder).

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Stimulus bill narrowly survives Senate test vote



By David Espo
Associated Press via Yahoo! News


WASHINGTON – An $838 billion economic stimulus bill backed by the White House narrowly advanced in the Senate on Monday over strong Republican opposition, and Democratic leaders vowed to deliver the emergency legislation for President Barack Obama's signature within a few days.

The vote was 61-36, one more than the 60 needed to move the measure toward Senate passage on Tuesday. That in turn, will set the stage for possibly contentious negotiations with the House on a final compromise on legislation the president says is desperately needed to tackle the worst economic crisis in more than a generation.

The Senate vote occurred as the Obama administration moved ahead on another key component of its economic recovery plan. Officials said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would outline rules on Tuesday for $350 billion in bailout funds designed to help the financial industry as well as homeowners facing foreclosure.

As for the stimulus, Obama said Monday night at the start of his televised news conference, "I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans."

The Senate vote was close but scarcely in doubt once the White House and Democratic leaders agreed to trim about $100 billion on Friday.

As a result, Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania broke ranks to cast their votes to advance the bill....(Click for remainder).

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The GOP's Filibuster Hypocrisy

Though seemingly forgotten by most TV talking heads, it was only three years ago, when the Republicans had control of both the White House and Congress – and “filibuster” was a dirty word.

By Robert Parry
Consortium News


It was usually coupled with “obstructionist” amid demands that any of George W. Bush’s proposals deserved “an up-or-down vote.”

Yet now, with the Democrats holding the White House and Congress, the Republicans and the Washington press corps have come to view the filibuster fondly, as a valued American tradition, a time-honored part of a healthy legislative process.

Today, it’s seen as a good thing that Democrats must muster 60 votes in the Senate to pass almost anything.

When the TV pundits talk about Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan squeaking through the Senate, they're actually referring to a vote that might fall in the range of 60 or more yes votes to perhaps 38 no’s, a three-touchdown “squeaker.”

The only thing close about the vote is whether the package can overcome a Republican filibuster and get 60 votes for “cloture.” To reach this super-majority, Democrats have been forced to accept a higher percentage of tax cuts, even if leading economists consider tax cuts one of the least effective ways of stimulating the moribund economy.

Yet, this anti-democratic fact about the GOP strategy – that it seeks to frustrate the will of the American majority, which rejected the Republicans and their policies in the last two U.S. elections – is rarely mentioned in the news.

Nor is the fact that Republicans railed against even a hint of a filibuster when the Democrats were in the minority just a few years ago....(Click for remainder).

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President Obama Press Conference


OPENING REMARKS OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA -- AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
First Presidential Press Conference
East Room, The White House
Monday, February 9th, 2009

Good evening. Before I take your questions tonight, I’d like to speak briefly about the state of our economy and why I believe we need to put this recovery plan in motion as soon as possible.

I took a trip to Elkhart, Indiana today. Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America. In one year, the unemployment rate went from 4.7% to 15.3%. Companies that have sustained this community for years are shedding jobs at an alarming speed, and the people who’ve lost them have no idea what to do or who to turn to. They can’t pay their bills and they’ve stopped spending money. And because they’ve stopped spending money, more businesses have been forced to lay off more workers. Local TV stations have started running public service announcements that tell people where to find food banks, even as the food banks don’t have enough to meet the demand.

As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across the country. Last Monday, more than 1,000 men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami. Last month, our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine. And if there’s anyone out there who still doesn’t believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from.

That is why the single most important part of this Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs. Because that is what America needs most right now.

It is absolutely true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do.

When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage. We will also provide a $2,500 tax credit to folks who are struggling to pay the cost of their college tuition, and $1000 worth of badly-needed tax relief to working and middle-class families. These steps will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving.

But as we learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone cannot solve all our economic problems – especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it has only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.

That is why we have come together around a plan that combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle-class with direct investments in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure – investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again – now and in the future.

More than 90% of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector. These will not be make-work jobs, but jobs doing the work that America desperately needs done. Jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and repairing our dangerously deficient dams and levees so that we don’t face another Katrina. They will be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil, and modernizing a costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives. They’ll be jobs creating 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America. And they’ll be the jobs of firefighters, teachers, and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief.

After many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenge we face right now. It is a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It contains input, ideas, and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans. It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we’re spending every dime. What it does not contain, however, is a single pet project, and it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable.

Despite all of this, the plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing too little or nothing at all will result in an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes; and confidence. That is a deficit that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this country back to work.

I want to thank the members of Congress who’ve worked so hard to move this plan forward, but I also want to urge all members of Congress to act without delay in the coming week to resolve their differences and pass this plan.

We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It is a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the sake of our future and our children’s. The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. That is the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship, and it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead. After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can. And with that, I’ll take your questions.

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