Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

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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Cash for Clunkers ends, cash for appliances coming soon

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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Iowa Republicans more like "Party of Hoover" than party of future

The Republican Party of Iowa is celebrating its “rising stars” tonight at an event featuring Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Judging by what we’ve heard lately from Iowa GOP leaders, they’re gonna party like it’s 1929.

Case in point: Iowa Senate Minority leader Paul McKinley. The possible gubernatorial candidate’s weekly memos continue to whine about spending and borrowing by Democrats (see also here). Republicans would rather slash government programs and provide “targeted” one-year tax credits.

The lessons of Herbert Hoover’s presidency are still lost on these people. I apologize for repeating myself, but excessive government spending cuts can turn an economic recession into a depression. Since state governments cannot run budget deficits, it makes sense for the federal government to help the states “backfill” their budgets. That was the express purpose of the state transfer funds in the stimulus package.

In addition, it is prudent to spend federal funds on projects with long-term benefits. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was in Des Moines on June 23 to highlight the first installment of what will be $41 million in stimulus funds for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in Iowa. Energy efficiency programs in particular will have huge collateral benefits, saving consumers money while helping the environment.

No matter how many times Republicans repeat their misleading talking points about the I-JOBS state bonding initiative Democrats passed this year, it is prudent to borrow money for worthwhile projects when interest rates are low. I don’t hear McKinley or other Republican leaders telling businesses not to borrow money to make capital improvements.

Share any thoughts about Republican ideas, rhetoric, or career lobbyist Haley Barbour in this thread.

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