February 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"Porkulus" bill "compromise"
Late this afternoon, the U.S. Senate reached a "bipartisan" agreement on President Obama's "stimulus package," which has been dubbed the "Porkulus bill" by El Rushbo. It's not much of a compromise, however: Instead of the $820 billion that Obama proposed spending after his inauguration (see Jan. 25), it will be "only" $780 billion -- trimming less than five percent from the total amount. See CNN.com. Relatively speaking, that's nothing. Details still have to be worked out, and the House-Senate conference committee may alter the package further.
Much like the compromise on judicial nominations back in May 2005, a small coalition of moderates from both parties was essential for breaking the roadblock to the bill's passage: Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), This time, however, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was not part of the compromise. Ironically, this was one occasion where economic experts and public opinion coincided; skepticism of Obama's proposal was very broad and deep across the country. Somehow, that didn't seem to matter to the U.S. House and Senate, however. Last week, economist Martin Feldstein leveled some criticisms of the merits of the package in the Washington Post last week, saying "We cannot afford an $800 billion mistake."
In today's Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer ridiculed President Obama's claim that failure to take immediate action "will turn crisis into a catastrophe." How ironic for a candidate who ran his campaign on the upbeat rhetoric of hope; perhaps this signifies the "audacity of fear." Krauthammer condemns
the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus -- and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress's own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish.
So even though Obama may have won a "victory" today, it comes at the cost of exposing his lack of candor in advancing his agenda. His credibility is already wearing thin, only three weeks into his term. Like Krauthammer, I expected Obama would have a head-on collision with reality during his first few months in office, but didn't think the utopian dream to come to such a quick and abrupt end.
SEC and Bernie Madoff
How did the Securities and Exchange Commission fail to detect the massive Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Bernie Madoff? It took a lot of effort to ignore the incessant warnings of whistleblower Harry Markopolos, who told the whole story to the House Financial Services Committee this week. See Yahoo Finance; hat tip to Dan. That guy deserves great praise for persisting in his warnings to a regulatory agency that was evidently asleep at the wheel. Some day, former SEC chief Christopher Shays (former GOP congressman from Connecticut) will be held accountable by the thousands of Americans who lost their life savings to financial crooks.