President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill in 2009 was an economic success and a political failure.
Enacted at the height of a financial crisis, the law’s combination of tax cuts and government spending prevented another Great Depression. Stocks started to rise a few weeks after the law was passed, and the economy started growing within months. Yet Obama and the Congressional Democrats never got much voter credit. His approval ratings fell for much of his first term, and Republicans swept the mid-terms of 2010.
Part of the problem was that the bill was smaller than Obama had wanted – at the insistence of moderates in Congress – and that the economic recovery from the crisis was slow. But the bill also had another political weakness. It was a mishmash of hundreds of policies, few of which affected the lives of Americans in any significant and tangible way.
Can you think of a single lasting legacy of the law – a new bridge or a new airport that he built, or a new government program that he created? Probably not.
The law was both a triumph of technocratic policymaking and a failure of real world politics. It was an example of what political scientist Suzanne Mettler called the “submerged state”. The caption of Mettler’s 2011 book of the same name is: “How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy.”
Alongside Obama during the debate on the 2009 stimulus package, there was of course Joe Biden, then vice-president. Biden, who had just left the Senate after 36 years, helped negotiate the package. As Biden now tries to push through his own presidency’s most ambitious legislation, it’s clear he’s come to believe that the overwhelmed state is a problem for the Democratic Party and the country.
It is less clear whether he will avoid Obama’s missed opportunity or repeat it.
Democrats in Congress and the White House are currently negotiating what to include in a sweeping bill they hope to pass this fall. In its original setting – favored by Biden and the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill – the bill included a universal pre-K, free community college, expanded child care, paid family time off, child tax credits , Medicare and Medicaid extensions, and clean energy funding.
But moderate Democrats prefer a smaller package, with less government spending – as happened in 2009, too. Some Democrats are also uncomfortable with either raising the funds needed to foot the bill (through tax increases on the rich and corporate) or increasing the deficit. As a result, Democrats are now reducing the plan from its initial cost of $ 3.5 trillion, spread over 10 years, and being forced to make tough choices about what should be left.
These choices, in turn, have led to disagreements that break down not along predictable ideological lines, but rather along what I see as technocratic / realpolitik lines.
The technocratic camp includes Democrats – many of them on the left – who favor a cost-benefit approach. They want to do the most good, help as many people as possible, with the dollars available.
One example: an expansion of Obamacare to include low-income people in the 12 states (largely Republican-led) that have refused to expand Medicaid on their own. Many of these people do not have health insurance and go without some form of basic health care. Another such policy Democrats are considering: an expansion of federal grants that help middle-class families buy private health insurance through Obamacare.
The realpolitik camp has a different focus. While promoting the expansion of Obamacare, these Democrats fear the party will repeat its mistakes of the Obama years if it focuses on improving complex bureaucratic agendas.
For inspiration, this side can refer to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was often ruthless considering the political importance of his policies. Once, pushing aside an economic adviser’s advice on the structure of certain new taxes, Roosevelt said, “I guess you’re right about the economy. They play politics all the way. “
The realpolitik camp includes Senator Bernie Sanders, who prefers to expand Medicare, in part because he sees it as a popular and easy-to-understand program that will help both the poor and serve as the foundation for health care. truly universal. This description does not apply to Medicaid. “We have to explain to the American people what we’re doing here for them,” Sanders said on a recent trip to the Midwest to promote the Biden program, “and this can’t just be an inside Beltway deal. . “
Biden shares this point of view. As the Washington Post reports, “Biden offers programs the benefits of which voters can easily grasp, according to assistants and friends, such as Universal Preschool and Free Community College. “He favors decreases in drug prices for related reasons. Mike Donilon, one of Biden’s main contributors, said: “The president is working to get the government to act in a way that people can see and feel in their lives.”
Both approaches have their pros and cons, and both will undoubtedly shape the final bill. But in a sprawling plan that already lacks focus – the most common ways to describe it are process-oriented terms like “the $ 3.5 trillion bill” or “the reconciliation bill” – the biggest risk for Democrats seem to be that they will also pay little attention to political realities. If they pass a bill that voters do not understand, Democrats are unlikely to long control the levers of federal policymaking.
Old and new at New York Fashion Week
New York Fashion Week ended last weekend. At Rodarte’s show on Saturday, tingling music was played as models floated through a courtyard adorned with sculptures clad in shimmering dresses. It was like an homage to the natural world: There were mushroom-print silk dresses that swelled like parachutes, as well as embroidered flowers, seashells, and a cape wearing a sequined alien. For the finale, the models walked around barefoot in simple, neutral looks, the last one holding a succulent.
In a review of the last shows of the week, Vanessa Friedman, the Times’ chief fashion critic, wrote about the “growing rift line” between the city’s older and established brands and new labels with sensibilities. more raw and socially conscious.
Most of the week’s highlights were presentations from younger brands, like Peter Do’s debut runway show, full of finely tailored suits and sleek coats. On a rooftop garden, Collina Strada stacked layers of colorful, recycled material on mannequins that ran, jumped and held hands. LaQuan Smith put on a glitzy show at the Empire State Building where poodles pranced alongside the models.
“The clothes that seemed most relevant did not speak in a generic form of upside down glamor but in a primal affirmation of difference,” Vanessa wrote. Read the rest of his review. – Sanam Yar, a morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
This quick lunch has a solid base of crispy, cheesy tortillas.
In “The Red Studio”, Henri Matisse included tiny versions of his past paintings and sculptures. For the first time, MoMA will present the painting alongside the works it represents.
Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was reparable. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.
Here are today’s mini crosswords, and a hint: What’s new? (three letters).
If you want to play more, find all of our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. Until tomorrow. – David
PS President William McKinley died at 2:15 a.m. 120 years ago today, more than a week after an assassin shot him. Its vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in later today.
This is the first page in print today.
“The Daily” is about America’s Nursing Homes. “The Ezra Klein Show” presents Colson Whitehead.