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stimulus bill

Exploring Paul McKinley's fantasy world

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 06:20:00 AM CDT

If Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley believes the spin he serves up to journalists and the Republican Party faithful, he must have an active imagination.

I don't know which is most detached from reality: McKinley's take on Iowa's finances, his views on "state sovereignty" or his election predictions.

There's More... :: (4 Comments, 2092 words in story)

What is Kim Reynolds' plan to prevent teacher layoffs?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 28, 2010 at 06:55:04 AM CDT

Now that State Senator Kim Reynolds is officially the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, it's time for her political views to receive more scrutiny. On the day Terry Branstad announced he had picked Reynolds, she said this:

We have a projected state budget gap of nearly $1 billion dollars.  And we have seen a dramatic slide in student test scores and teacher layoffs in school districts across the state. We can do better.  We must do better.  And, as Terry Branstad's running mate, I will dedicate my every waking minute to sharing with Iowans his ambitious goals for our future.

She repeated those talking points in her speech to the GOP state convention on June 26. Republicans never tire of the "projected state budget gap" ruse. Reynolds is talking about projections for the budget year that begins in July 2011. Maybe she forgot that the Democratic-controlled legislature passed a balanced budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1 despite a projected $1 billion shortfall last November. Reynolds also asserted that Governor Chet Culver has "spent too much, taxed too much, borrowed too much" and dismissed Iowa's AAA bond rating as irrelevant: "That's like my husband telling me, our checkbook and savings are empty, but we've got $15,000 we can still spend on the credit card." Not really, Senator Reynolds: Iowa has money left in our state reserve funds (equivalent to a family's savings account), and independent analysts affirm that our fiscal health is strong coming out of the worst recession since World War II. Many states fully depleted their rainy day accounts in response to an unprecedented drop in state revenues, but Iowa did not.

Like Branstad, Reynolds laments teacher layoffs across the state, and like Branstad, she fails to acknowledge that those education cuts would have been much deeper without the federal stimulus money Iowa has received.

Branstad's not a numbers guy and hated tough budget meetings when he was governor. Having served four terms as Clarke County treasurer, Reynolds should feel more comfortable talking specifics on state spending. Friends have said she was able to save money as a county treasurer without cutting services. She's campaigning with a guy who promises to veto any bill that calls for spending more than 99 percent of state revenues collected. Let's see Reynolds produce an alternative budget for the current year that protects K-12 education without "spending too much."

Details on the budget for fiscal year 2011 can be found here. All Reynolds needs to do is figure out how to spend no more than 99 percent of state revenues projected for the year. In other words, balance the budget without using the $328 million in federal stimulus money (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds) and the $267 million in reserve funds that Democrats included in the budget Culver signed into law.

If Reynolds is prepared to criss-cross the state bashing Democrats over teacher layoffs, she should be prepared to show us the education budget Iowans could expect under a Branstad administration.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Show us your balanced budget, Terry Branstad

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 21, 2010 at 05:15:00 AM CDT

Republican candidate Terry Branstad claims he learned from his mistakes in handling the state budget and says he will "put the focus back on restoring fiscal responsibility and jobs and education" if elected to a fifth term as governor. Not only will he abide by generally accepted accounting principles, he promises, he will veto any bill that calls for spending more than 99 percent of state revenues collected.

Independent analysts have vouched for Iowa's strong fiscal condition, but Branstad and other Republicans cry "overspending" because the balanced 2010 and 2011 budgets relied on some money from the federal government and from Iowa's reserve funds. Never mind that supporting state budgets, thereby reducing the need for big service cuts, was one of the primary goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009 stimulus bill). Never mind that unprecedented flood damage in Iowa coincided with the sharpest drop in state revenues in 60 years because of the longest recession since World War II. Branstad claims Iowa should not spend more than 99 percent of state revenues collected in any fiscal year.

Last Friday Branstad used a story on teacher layoffs in Des Moines to score political points, ignoring the fact that education cuts would have claimed far more teachers' jobs if not for the federal stimulus bill. Click here for more information on ARRA funds allocated to Iowa education programs for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years.

It's time for Branstad to put up or shut up. He has a well-staffed campaign and a policy director who served in the Iowa House for ten years. Taking the 2011 budget Governor Chet Culver signed as a starting point, Branstad's team should figure out how to do without the $328 million in federal fiscal aid (ARRA funds) and the $267 million in reserve funds that budget incorporates.

Then Branstad should produce the budget he would have demanded for fiscal year 2011, which would spend no more than 99 percent of state revenues projected for the year. Let's see how K-12 education, Medicaid, public safety and other services would fare under Branstad's "responsible" Iowa budget.

Hint: the spending cuts Branstad endorsed during the primary campaign (ending the preschool program, family planning funding, and reducing administrative costs at Area Education Agencies) would not come close to bringing the budget into balance for 2011.

Also keep in mind that the spending cuts Iowa Republican legislators proposed during the 2010 session were padded with wildly inaccurate estimates of how much could be saved on services to undocumented immigrants.

Voters deserve more than platitudes about fiscal responsibility. Let us compare the 2011 budget Iowa Democrats adopted with the one Branstad would have demanded.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

The stimulus was the biggest middle-class tax cut in history

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 10:20:42 AM CDT

I was disappointed by some compromises made to pass the stimulus (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) in February 2009. I felt President Obama made too many concessions in the fruitless pursuit of Republican votes, and that too much of the cost went toward tax cuts that would be slower-acting and less stimulative than certain forms of government spending.

That said, the tax cuts in the stimulus will help tens of millions of American families, particularly those with working-class or middle-class incomes. Citizens for Tax Justice has calculated that "the major tax cuts enacted in the 2009 economic stimulus bill actually reduced federal income taxes for tax year 2009 for 98 percent of all working families and individuals. "

In terms of the number of Americans who benefited, the stimulus bill was the biggest tax cut in history. That is, "the estimated $282 billion in tax cuts [from the stimulus] over two years is more than either of the 2001-2002 or the 2004-2005 Bush tax cuts or the Kennedy or Reagan tax cuts." George W. Bush's tax cuts were more costly to the U.S. Treasury over a 10-year period, but as Anonymous Liberal noted last year,

The Bush tax cuts were skewed dramatically toward the wealthy. In 2004, 60% of the tax cuts went to the top 20 percent of income earners with over 25% going to the top 1% of income earners. Those numbers have increased since then as the cuts to the estate tax have taken effect.

Tomorrow is the deadline for most Americans to file their tax returns, and Republicans will try to harness the tea party movement's anger at what they view as excessive taxes and spending. However, many ordinary people may be shocked to learn how large their refunds are this year. According to the White House, "the average tax refund is up nearly 10 percent this year."

Democrats should not be afraid to vigorously defend the stimulus bill during this year's Congressional campaigns. I wish the recovery act had been larger and better targeted, but the bottom line is that Republicans voted against the largest ever middle-class tax cut.

The White House website has this Recovery Act Tax Savings Tool to help people find benefits to which they are entitled. After the jump I've posted a fact sheet on this subject, which the White House press office released on April 12. Note: if you have already filed your taxes, you can amend them after April 15 to collect on any credits from the stimulus bill that you missed.

There's More... :: (2 Comments, 620 words in story)

Unemployment benefits will run out for many today

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 07:30:00 AM CDT

Although the March jobs report was encouraging, the unemployment rate and the number of long-term unemployed are still at historically high levels. Unfortunately, unemployment benefits for about 200,000 Americans will run out soon because Congress adjourned for its Easter recess before resolving an dispute over extending those and other benefits. The Hill reports:

The interruption in benefits will last two weeks at a minimum, according to Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), since lawmakers return from spring break on April 12.

As the two-week recess began, Congress was at an impasse over how to extend the emergency unemployment insurance program and other expiring provisions, including increased COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed, the Medicare doctor payment rate and federal flood insurance.

Senate Republicans said the $9.3 billion, 30-day extension preferred by Democrats should be paid for, while Democrats said the bill's cost didn't need to be offset because the program was "emergency spending."

Under the jobless benefits program that ends Monday, Americans out of work are eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. The program, aimed at helping jobless Americans stay afloat when new jobs aren't readily available, gives an unemployed worker more than the 26 weeks of unemployment insurance normally available. But with the program ending, those out of work for as few as six months will see an interruption in their benefit checks.

I love how Republicans who approved every blank check for war in Iraq and every tax cut for the top 1 percent now demand that unemployment benefits be "paid for." I don't expect them to hold up action on unemployment benefits forever, but even if Democrats are able to apply extensions retroactively later this month, a lot of families will experience real hardship in the meantime. Democrats should not have adjourned for Easter before dealing with this issue. I hope they pass a bill to extend the benefits until the end of the year, so these battles won't recur every month.

In an April 2 statement regarding the latest jobs report, Senator Tom Harkin outlined additional steps needed to help people looking for work:

"First, Congress must overcome the obstructionism that is holding up an extension of unemployment insurance.  This critical safety net expires Monday and will leave nearly 38,000 Americans and 1,200 Iowans without benefits they need while they look for work.  In addition, we must take immediate action to prevent job losses among our nation's teachers - to protect the quality of education - and we need to pass job creating legislation.  When Congress returns, I intend to move immediately on those efforts."

UPDATE: Mike Lillis has more on benefits expiring and next steps in the Senate.

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Grassley votes no again as Senate sends small jobs bill to Obama

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 17, 2010 at 12:44:56 PM CDT

The U.S. Senate gave final approval to a small jobs bill today by a vote of 68-29. Eleven Republicans and the Senate's two independents joined 55 Democrats (including Iowa's Tom Harkin) to pass the bill. The only Democrat to vote no was Ben Nelson of Nebraska (roll call here). The motion to invoke cloture on this jobs bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 60-31 vote, with six Republicans voting with all Democrats but Ben Nelson (roll call here). Senator Chuck Grassley voted with the Republicans who tried to filibuster the bill on Monday and with those who opposed the bill today. From the Washington Post:

The centerpiece of the bill is a new program giving companies a break from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of 2010 on any new workers they hire who had been unemployed for at least 60 days. Employers would also get a $1,000 tax credit for each of those workers who stays on the payroll for at least one year.

Aside from that program, the measure includes a one-year extension of the law governing federal transportation funding, and would transfer $20 billion into the highway trust fund. The bill also extends a tax break allowing companies to write off equipment purchases, and expands the Build America Bonds program, which helps state and local governments secure financing for infrastructure projects.

Last month the Senate approved a similar jobs measure; Grassley voted no at that time as well. After the House made minor changes to the legislation, the bill had to clear the Senate again before going to the president's desk.

Most House Democrats support a larger job-creation bill with more money for infrastructure projects, but there may not be 60 votes in the Senate for such a measure.

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Hey, Republicans: Bruce Braley can multitask

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 06:25:00 AM CST

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee confirmed yesterday that Representative Bruce Braley will co-chair the DCCC's "Red to Blue" program this year. Red to Blue candidates are Democratic challengers seeking to win Republican-held House districts. DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen noted this week that even in a "tough cycle for Democrats,"

The DCCC is focused on not only protecting our threatened incumbents, but also staying aggressively on offense. The talented leadership of our battle-tested Red to Blue chairs Bruce Braley, Allyson Schwartz, Patrick Murphy, and Donna Edwards will ensure Democratic candidates have the infrastructure and support they need to be successful.

The Republican Party of Iowa responded with a boilerplate statement accusing Braley of being loyal to "San Franciscan Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi" instead of the citizens of Iowa's first Congressional district. Their attacks on Braley's record could hardly be more misleading.  

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Iowans split on party lines as House passes scaled-back jobs bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 18:58:59 PM CST

The House of Representatives approved a jobs bill today containing about $15 billion in tax incentives and a $20 billion allocation from the Highway Trust Fund to support infrastructure projects. (The Senate had approved the legislation on February 24.) Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted for the bill, while Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted against it (roll call here). Six Republicans joined 211 Democrats in supporting the bill, while 35 Democrats opposed it along with most of the GOP caucus. The Democratic opponents were mostly members of either the Progressive Caucus or the Congressional Black Caucus:

Congressman [Raul] Grijalva, one of the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had dismissed the tax-credit focused bill as not "dealing with job creation." [...] The CBC's position during the month long debate on the $15 billion jobs tax credit package was fairly straightforward - CBC members don't want to back a bill that was composed of tax breaks for business which they don't believe will necessarily create jobs when other job-creating programs the CBC supports, such a summer youth jobs program, face an uncertain future in the Senate.

Braley had introduced a separate bill last month containing language similar to part of the jobs bill approved today:

Braley's language in the HIRE Act provides small business owners with greater incentives to hire workers for long-term positions, providing $1,000 in additional tax incentives for businesses that retain employees for 52 consecutive weeks. The payroll tax cut provides greater incentive for employers to move quickly to hire new workers because the credit expires at the end of the year.  The sooner employees are hired, the more time small business owners have to benefit from the credit.

The [Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment] Act also includes the following provisions:

o       Tax cuts to spur new investment by small businesses to help them expand and hire more workers

o       Extension of the Highway Trust Fund allowing for tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment

o       Provisions -- modeled after the Build America Bonds program - to make it easier for states to borrow for infrastructure projects, such as school construction and energy projects

Earlier this week, Republican Senator Jim Bunning ended his filibuster of a bill including a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and other measures. The Senate then approved the bill by a 78 to 19 vote. Both Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley voted for the bill. However, Grassley defended Bunning's efforts to demand that the bill be paid for, while Harkin said Bunning had abused Senate procedures in blocking the bill for several days. I do agree with one point Grassley raised: the unemployment benefits should have been included in the jobs bill the Senate approved on February 24.

Obama signed the bill right away on March 3. Not only did that extend unemployment and COBRA benefits, it also allowed furloughed Department of Transportation workers to come back to work and prevented a big cut in Medicare payments to physicians from going into effect.

Speaking of jobs-related legislation, Roxanne Conlin's campaign blasted Grassley this week for announcing that some Dubuque workers are eligible for a retraining program that he voted against. After the jump you can read the press release, which includes background information on the program and Grassley's voting record.  

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Appliance Rebate Fiasco

by: corncam

Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 08:21:34 AM CST

(Someone had better fix this problem quickly. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I thought that the appliance rebate was going to make some good headlines for Gov. Culver.  But it looks like it is going down as a fiasco.  The program was supposed to start at 8:00AM today, but by 8:10, the website was already down.  

It only had the message: "The service is unavailable."  

 The phone lines are also jammed.  Most of the time I don't even get a busy signal, it just leaves me hanging, listening to static.  Has anyone else tried to get a rebate yet?

UPDATE from desmoinesdem: The $2.8 million in stimulus money for these rebates in Iowa was exhausted in one day. Representative Bruce Braley has urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "to include funding for clean energy appliance rebate programs in any jobs legislation considered by the House."

Discuss :: (12 Comments)

Long-term unemployed pay the price for Senate dysfunction

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Feb 28, 2010 at 10:30:06 AM CST

As long-term unemployment continues to rise, unemployment benefits for many Americans will run out tonight because the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill extending the benefits late last week. An estimated 1.2 million Americans, including about 75,000 Iowans, stand to lose unemployment benefits during the month of March if Congress does not act. For reasons I don't understand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid left the benefits extension out of the jobs bill approved by the Senate on February 24.

The following day, the House of Representatives approved a separate bill containing a one-month extension of unemployment benefits, federal subsidies for people on COBRA health insurance plans, current Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, and a few other programs. Democrats tried to bring this bill up for a Senate vote right away, but retiring Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky repeatedly objected to motions for unanimous consent. Democrats promised to keep filing motions until Bunning broke down, but instead they adjourned near midnight on Thursday night.

Democrats have been slamming Bunning in public statements and e-mail blasts. Here's an example from Senator Tom Harkin's office on Friday:

"We need to act quickly to extend the safety net and make sure laid-off workers have access to unemployment benefits through the end of the year, at least," said Harkin.  "It is heartbreaking to see political games being played with the lives of hardworking people who are struggling to find a job, particularly when there has been strong bipartisan support in the past to extend unemployment benefits and other vital safety net programs.  

"Unfortunately this is emblematic of the larger issue plaguing the Senate today: abuse of Senate procedure.  We saw it in November as well.  While Senate Republicans play games, families are sitting around their kitchen tables wondering how they will make ends meet.  

"I intend to do everything in my power to fight this and hope other Senators will join me in this effort."

[...] In November, Senate Republicans used a similar delay tactic to filibuster a motion to proceed to a bill to extend unemployment compensation.  After delaying and grinding Senate business to a halt for nearly a month, the bill passed 97-1.

Bunning's behavior is inexcusable, and he even had the gall to complain about missing a college basketball game while staying on the Senate floor to block this bill.

At the same time, it is pathetic that Democrats adjourned instead of standing and fighting Senate Republicans all weekend long. Apparently one or two other Republicans showed up Thursday night to back up Bunning, but so what? Democrats should have refused to leave until the unemployment benefits bill passed. At the Congress Matters blog, David Waldman explained other ways Democrats could have handled Bunning's procedural roadblock. Chris Bowers looked at the big picture here:

Democrats are in charge, and they are going to get blamed for this.  Democratic attempts to blame this on Senate procedure will ring utterly hollow.  Not only do people not understand, or care about, those rules, but it simply sounds wimpy and pathetic for the people running the United States Government to throw their hands up in the air and say "our procedural rules prevented us from doing anything to solve this huge problem. Sorry."

Democrats did not have to adjourn.  They could have kept fighting Bunning.  Further, they all agreed to the rules under which the Senate operates, and most of them are still defending those rules.  Blaming Senate procedure is not going to extend anyone's unemployment or COBRA benefits, and its not going to win many hearts around the country.

Sure, Jim Bunning is currently the biggest asshole in the country right now.  However, if you think that procedure is a problem, then start working to change the procedure.  If you think that unemployment benefits need to be extended, then don't adjourn for the weekend when those benefits are slated to run out.  

Sometime this week, or perhaps later in March, Senate Democrats will break the Republican obstruction. But when that happens, "state governments will still have to deal with the extra administrative costs of shutting down and restarting the extended benefits programs."

Some Republicans, like Representative Steve King, are philosophically opposed to extending unemployment benefits, but they fail to acknowledge that extending unemployment benefits has tremendous "bang for the buck." The Iowa Fiscal Partnership recently calculated that that the unemployment benefits extension contained in last year's federal stimulus bill "produced $501.7 million increased economic activity and $112.1 million in income in 2009, while creating or saving 3,727 jobs" in Iowa alone.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Senate passes jobs bill; Grassley votes no

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 14:34:35 PM CST

The U.S. Senate passed a scaled-back jobs bill today by a 70-28 vote (roll call here). 57 of the 59 Senate Democrats voted for the bill; Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted no and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was absent. 13 Republicans voted for the bill. Five of them helped Democrats break a Republican filibuster on Monday: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and the retiring Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio. Two Republicans who were absent for Monday's cloture vote also voted yes today: Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Six other Republicans tried to block this vote from going forward on Monday but turned around and voted for the bill today: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, George LeMieux of Florida, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Senate Democrats and the media are calling this a $15 billion jobs bill, but David Dayen notes, it's really a $35 billion measure: "the extension of the Highway Trust Fund would add $20 billion for infrastructure projects, but because of the way it's financed, through a fund shift, it doesn't count as an expense."

In addition to the highway fund money, the main features of the jobs bill are a tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers, "Build America Bonds" that help state and local governments to borrow money, and a provision to allow small businesses to write off more expenses.

Senator Chuck Grassley voted against today's bill and against the cloture motion on Monday. He and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus had agreed on a different jobs bill, which Senate Majority Leader Reid abandoned. In a statement submitted to the Senate record on Monday, Grassley slammed Reid's "disregard for bipartisanship" and noted that tax-extending provisions in the Baucus-Grassley bill had enjoyed broad support from both parties in the past.

The House passed a larger jobs bill in December that included many of the tax-extending provisions Reid omitted from the Senate bill.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys.com, said last week that Reid's jobs bill was "a good first step" but not nearly large enough to address the unemployment problem:

A failure to provide additional funding to struggling states, for example, would lead to job losses that would "overwhelm" all the other job-creating efforts being tried, he said. And while the Schumer-Hatch tax credit would create between 200,000 and 300,000 new jobs, Zandi estimated, that number is a drop in the bucket relative to the roughly 11 million new jobs needed to get the country back to pre-recession jobless levels.

Reid has promised to introduce more jobs-creating legislation soon. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will try to move quickly on the bill the Senate just approved, Roll Call reported.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Stimulus bill anniversary thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 17, 2010 at 19:32:02 PM CST

It's been a year since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the stimulus bill) into law. I didn't like the early concessions Obama made to Republicans in a fruitless effort to win their support for the stimulus. I was even more upset with later compromises made to appease Senate conservadems and Republican moderates. They reduced spending in several areas that had real stimulative value (school construction funds, extra money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, aid to state governments) in order to include tax cuts that have much less stimulus "bang for the buck." Senator Tom Harkin was right to question why 9 percent of the stimulus bill's cost went toward fixing the alternative minimum tax, for instance.

Still, I supported passage of the stimulus bill. In late 2008 and early 2009 the U.S. economy was losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs per month. Something had to be done. On balance, the stimulus did much more good than bad. Economists agree it has saved or created a lot of jobs:

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

Two and a half million jobs isn't enough to compensate for the 8 million jobs lost since this recession began, but it's a start.

Not only did the stimulus create jobs, it greatly increased spending on programs that will have collateral benefits. Incentives to make homes more energy efficient will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers money that they can spend elsewhere. Money for sewer improvements will provide lasting gains in water quality (inadequate sewers and septic systems are a huge problem in Iowa). The stimulus included $8 billion for high-speed rail. It wasn't nearly enough, of course; we could have spent ten or twenty times that amount on improving our rail networks. But that $8 billion pot drew $102 billion in grant applications from 40 states and Washington, DC. The massive demand for high-speed rail stimulus funding increases the chance that Congress will allocate more funds for rail transportation in the future.

Unfortunately, most Americans don't believe the stimulus bill created jobs. That's largely because unemployment remains at a historically high level of 10 percent nationwide. Also, inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings have gone down during the past year. In addition, Republicans have stayed on message about the worthlessness of the stimulus bill, even though scores of them have hailed stimulus spending in their own states and districts.

Democrats on the House Labor and Education Committee released an ad that lists various popular stimulus bill provisions, such as increasing Pell Grants and teacher pay. The ad uses the tag line, "There's an act for that," naming the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the end. I don't think it's effective, because the ad doesn't include the word "stimulus." Few people will realize that the ARRA refers to the stimulus bill.

Bleeding Heartland readers, how do you view the stimulus one year later?

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Baucus-Grassley "jobs" bill going nowhere (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 09:15:00 AM CST

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley released a draft jobs bill yesterday that would cost about $85 billion. It "would give employers a payroll tax exemption for hiring those who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. The bill would also provide a $1,000 income tax credit for new workers retained for 52 weeks." Click here to read a copy of the draft bill.

A bipartisan jobs bill would be great if that bill would create a significant number of new jobs. Unfortunately, analysts agree that many of the measures in the Baucus-Grassley bill would do little on that front. More details are after the jump.

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 1144 words in story)

Republican hypocrisy watch: stimulus money edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 09:15:00 AM CST

The conservative Washington Times newspaper noticed yesterday that some vocal opponents of last year's stimulus bill haven't been walking the walk:

More than a dozen Republican lawmakers, while denouncing the stimulus to the media and their constituents, privately sent letters to just one of the federal government's many agencies seeking stimulus money for home-state pork projects.

The letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, expose the gulf between lawmakers' public criticism of the overall stimulus package and their private lobbying for projects close to home.

"It's not illegal to talk out of both sides of your mouth, but it does seem to be a level of dishonesty troubling to the American public," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The Washington Times learned that Iowa's senior Senator Chuck Grassley

was yet another lawmaker who voted against the stimulus and later backed applications for stimulus money in two letters to the Agriculture Department.

"If the funds are there, Senator Grassleys going to help Iowa, rather than some other state, get its share," spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said.

Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan commented in a statement, "Someone needs to tell Chuck Grassley that you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't vote against something and then take credit for the funds coming to Iowa."

Sure he can, and he'll keep doing that until Iowa journalists report that Grassley was against the spending before he was for it.

Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers may recall that Representatives Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) have played this game too. Last March, Latham bragged about earmarks he inserted in the 2009 omnibus spending bill he voted against. King sought out favorable publicity for stimulus money allocated to widen U.S. Highway 20 in northwest Iowa, even though he voted against the stimulus bill. Those actions earned King and Latham spots on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Hypocrisy Hall of Fame." It's not an exclusive club, though: 71 House Republicans have already been inducted.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 2)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 14:56:38 PM CST

Following up on the diary I posted this morning, this post compiles links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of national politics from July through December 2009. Health care reform was again the number one topic. I wish there had been a happy ending.
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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 07:52:32 AM CST

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama's administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn't have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can't say I wasn't warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year's political events are welcome in this thread.

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New GOP robocall uses old GOP playbook

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 22, 2009 at 19:23:18 PM CST

Oh no! Representative Leonard Boswell must be quaking in his boots now that the National Republican Campaign Committee is running this robocall against him in Iowa's third district:

"Leonard Boswell spent 2009 helping liberal Speaker Nancy Pelosi push a massive government takeover of health care, a cap-and-trade energy bill that will increase costs for Iowa workers, and a massive $787 billion pork-laden spending bill that he called a stimulus but that has not helped the Iowa economy. Tell him your New Year's resolution is to watch his votes in 2010 to make sure he is voting for Iowa families, not the liberal agenda of the Democrat party leaders in Washington."

For years, Republicans have trotted out versions of this script against Boswell: blah blah blah Nancy Pelosi blah blah blah liberal agenda blah blah blah Democrat Party. It hasn't resonated before, so why would it work now?

Specifically, I don't think they will get far running against the stimulus package. Even in a weak economy, Boswell will be able to point to dozens of programs from the stimulus bill that benefited Iowa families. He has brought money to the district through several other bills passed this year as well. The Republican alternative, passing no stimulus and freezing federal spending, would have made the recession far worse.

The health care bill doesn't even contain a weak public insurance option, let alone a "government takeover." I don't dispute that there will be plenty for the Republicans to attack in that bill, but Boswell will be able to point to items that benefit Iowans, such as new Medicare reimbursement rates to benefit low-volume hospitals (including Grinnell Regional Medical Center and Skiff Medical Center in Newton).

Boswell fought for concessions in the climate change bill that weakened the bill from my perspective but will be touted by his campaign as protecting sectors of the Iowa economy. Anyway, many people's utility bills are lower this winter because the recession has brought down natural gas prices.

It's fine with me if the NRCC wants to drain its coffers by funding robocalls like this around the country. I doubt they will scare Boswell into retirement or succeed in branding him as a Washington liberal.

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Braley wants "Buy American" provisions in jobs bill

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 08, 2009 at 19:11:24 PM CST

President Barack Obama announced more details today about provisions he wants in the jobs bill Congress will take up soon:

Obama proposed new spending for highway and bridge construction, for small business tax cuts and for retrofitting millions of homes to make them more energy-efficient. He said he wanted to extend economic stimulus programs to keep unemployment insurance from expiring for millions of out-of-work Americans and to help laid-off workers keep their health insurance. He proposed an additional $250 apiece in stimulus spending for seniors and veterans and aid to state and local governments to discourage them from laying off teachers, police officers and firefighters.

Making homes more energy efficient would not only create jobs, but would produce huge collateral benefits, as A Siegel explains at the Get Energy Smart Now blog. Money that homeowners and business owners save on utility bills is money they can spend on other goods and services.

Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (IA-01) and House Trade Working Group Chairman Mike Michaud (ME-02) wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today, urging them to make sure the jobs bill contains a strong "Buy American" provision. From a press release Braley's office issued:

"Recently, as America has suffered the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, unemployment has risen and is now around 10 percent," the letter reads. "We believe that the shipment of American jobs overseas is a factor in this rising unemployment.  If we are going to pass a strong job creation bill then it only makes sense to include strong Buy American provisions, to further ensure that the jobs created as a result of this legislation are created within the United States.

"We have an obligation to create jobs in America. While some would argue that Buy American is nothing more than a trade protectionist label, it is clear that these provisions would equate to greater investment, and greater job-creation, within the U.S.  In addition, Buy American provisions are perfectly legal under current trade agreements and many other nations use similar mechanisms to protect their domestic manufacturers.  Therefore, we feel that it is entirely appropriate that this language be included in any upcoming job-creation measure, and we believe that this provision is essential to creating and retaining American jobs.

The stimulus bill Congress approved in February contained "Buy American" language despite a massive corporate lobbying effort.

If the upcoming jobs bill contains aid to state and local governments, as the stimulus bill did, that could help Iowa legislators close the gap in the fiscal year 2011 budget. Republicans keep complaining about Iowa Democrats using federal transfers to balance the state budget, but they ignore the reality that deep cuts in state budgets are themselves a drag on the economy. State employee layoffs have a ripple effect in the private sector. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that without additional federal fiscal relief, "states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011 that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year."

UPDATE: Meteor Blades has a good post up at Daily Kos on the jobs bill.

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Iowa turning stimulus road funds around quickly

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 08:41:34 AM CDT

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been keeping track of how states are spending the stimulus funds allocated for roads. On September 2 the committee released a report ranking the states according to how much of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for highways and bridges had been put to work as of July 31. This pdf file contains the state rankings.

Iowa ranked second overall, having put 75 percent of its stimulus road funds to work by the end of July. Join me after the jump for more details from the report and analysis.  

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Cash for Clunkers ends, cash for appliances coming soon

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 09:57:03 AM CDT

The $3 billion "Cash for Clunkers" program officially ends today, having helped generate at least 625,000 new car sales. Representative Bruce Braley, a key advocate of the program, is holding an event this morning in Bettendorf with John McEleney, Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, and Gary Thomas, President of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association.

Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced that $300 million in stimulus money will go toward cash incentives for consumers to buy energy-efficient home appliances:

Beginning late this fall, the program authorizes rebates of $50 to $200 for purchases of high-efficiency household appliances. The money is part of the broader economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. Program details will vary by state, and the Energy Dept. has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file formal applications. The Energy Dept. expects the bulk of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November. (Unlike the clunkers auto program, consumers won't have to trade in their old appliances.)

"These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan. Only appliances covered by the Energy Star seal will qualify. In 2008, about 55% of newly produced major household appliances met those standards, which are set by the Energy Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency.

Replacing old appliances can significantly reduce a household's energy use and utility bills, so this seems like a good use of stimulus money. However, some analysts are skeptical that the new program will be as successful as "Cash for Clunkers":

"The cash-for-clunkers (program) had a discernible value proposition for the consumer, because he knows how much his (clunker) is worth," says [Sam] Darkatsh, the Raymond James analyst. "With appliances, there is no trade-in. You can walk into Home Depot and get a great deal on a home appliance any time you want one. Why would it drum up sales now?" Laura Champine, an analyst with Cowen & Co., agrees. "I'm not sure if it will be as powerful as cash for clunkers because there is something compelling about that $4,500 discount," she says. "Also, a new car is more fun than a new dishwasher. So I'm not sure if it will be as much of a driver, but any driver is welcome right now."

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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