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Rob Kailey is a working schmuck with no ties or affiliations to any governmental or political organizations, save those of sympathy.
stimulus package

Unhinged and at large: House Republican opposition to stimulus spending

by: Jay Stevens

Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 08:28:00 AM MST

So the stimulus bill -- HB 645 -- sailed through the House yesterday, but "not without naysayers," as the headline on Mike Dennison's report declares. And whoever wrote the headline wasn't kidding.

Tom McGillvray: "I just have to make the point that this may be the beginning of the end of our society as we know it."

Joel Boniek: "I have a sense that we're presiding over the demise of the Republic."

But it's Michael More who earned the prize for the most amusing rhetoric in his outburst against the stimulus spending bill:

More rose to speak on the bill and began by saying a Judiciary Committee hearing that morning on a bill to define a person as beginning at human conception had been "cut short" by the call to begin House debate on HB645.

Committee members had been discussing issues of God and conception, yet then were called to the House "to the sound of money falling from the skies, for all of us to roll over in and lap up," More said. "I have to ask, what of this question of God? What God do we serve? Is this all pretense? The pledge of allegiance, the invocation, every time we come to the (House) floor?"

Two observations. First, those opposing the stimulus spending bill make no mention of our current economic crisis, offer no mention of economic policy or theory, offer no counter solution to the crisis, and seem to lack any coherent vision of how a viable system would operate. Instead we are treated to angry rhetoric and dumbed-down talking points from a now-defunct 1990s political movement.

There are real reasons to be concerned with the federal government's stimulus spending. There are real reasons to be concerned with a massive federal deficit. But this stimulus spending bill is the least offensive of the federal spending bills aimed at curbing the current recession. And the state legislature is hardly the place to change federal policy.

Second, while a number of House Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the stimulus spending bill, most did not. And given that the rhetoric of the Republican majority is apocalyptic (to say the least), I'm guessing we'll a lot more action by the radical element of the party to ditch its moderate wing. That won't be good for Montana -- we all saw the fruit of that strategy play out in the last legislative session with an angry, combative, and radical leadership among House Republicans driving the legislature almost to a standstill.


Discuss :: (3 Comments)

What's doin' in the legislature...

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Mar 18, 2009 at 09:05:22 AM MST

Now for the doins' in Helena...

Jhwygirl has some excellent posts up. Earlier she posted the schedule for the first half of this week -- just to give you a taste of what contentious things were batted around in the legislative chambers.

Krazy Kerns' gun bill -- HB 228 -- had its hearing, and jhwygirl noted that opposition is increasing. And it's gaining wider attention, too. Gouras' AP report landed in the Seattle Times. I still don't get it: do Montanans think that needing to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon is a bad idea? And as jhwygirl noted, Larry Jent's SB 92 establishes a castle doctrine for Montanans that's reasonable. Why the love for Kerns' bill?

And the Horse Butcher bill sailed through its Senate committee yesterday. Now I'm not deaf to the need for a place to send horses to slaughter -- I'm not even against using the plant to slaughter wild horses -- but as jhwygirl points out, "this is one bill that has been cited as a violation of Montana's guaranteed right to a clean and healthful environment."

Another way of looking at this bill, is that it gives preferential legal and regulatory treatment to one particular industry. Why? Why not hold the horse slaughter industry to the same health and safety benchmarks as any other?

Mike Dennison's got a report on SB 499, which would lower the coal-severance tax for "green" projects. Its sponsor, Jeff Essman, argues that lowering the tax means more coal production and revenue. Opponents call it another boondoggle for the coal industry:

That same promise was made 22 years ago when the coal industry successfully lobbied to cut Montana's 30 percent coal-severance tax to 15 percent, they said - and it did not lead to more coal production.

"Except for a temporary increase to get the bill passed, there was no increase in production; if anything, it has gone down," said Verner Bertelsen of Helena, a former legislator and co-chairman of Montanans for the Coal Trust. "We doubt that reducing the tax will stimulate coal development in Montana. There are many more significant factors in siting a coal mine."

I'm leaning towards the boon-doggle side. That, and coal's a dying industry. Let it die, and let's think of better, more sustainable long-term use of our public lands...

And in Missoula, there's some buzz that it's not receiving its fair share of the stimulus money. And what money it is getting isn't going to mass transit or city infrastructure projects.

Can anyone explain Greg Barkus' rant on the Rotunda Report against government spending during a recession? It sounds like a theory patched together from shaky theoretical texts and right-wing blogs. We're in a Keynesian world right now; does Barkus not know that? In any case, it's kind of chilling to think that this man has any power over the state economy.

Discuss :: (20 Comments)

To panic, or not to panic...

by: Jay Stevens

Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 18:25:02 PM MST

Dennis Rehberg, speaking before the state legislature, on how news of the economy is manufactured to support stimulus bills:

"But panic ruled the day," Rehberg told the state lawmakers. "The idea that it was the bailout or nothing is a false choice that politicians invented to justify their votes to irate constituents back home."

Kalispell state senator, Greg Barkus, writing on the  Rotunda Report on why we need to toss aside environmental regulations for stimulus-funded projects:

The purpose of this bill is to make sure that we convert these federal stimulus funds directly into projects, and therefore jobs, as soon as possible.  I believe it's important that we don't delay these projects with paperwork and red tape.

There's no question that this is the worst I've seen our economy in my lifetime.  We've lost a couple of thousand jobs in the Flathead Valley in the past couple of months.  We need to get these funds moving and Montanans working as soon as possible.

Hm...looks like they forgot to coordinate their notes...

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Governor unveils details of stimulus package proposal for Montana

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 10:50:01 AM MST

Schweitzer unveiled the details for his proposal on how to spend the state's stimulus money yesterday. Dennison's summary of the proposed expenditures seem pretty reasonable to me; most of it is one-time spending expenditures, some of it crucial maintenance projects that will return value for the investment, such as weatherization of low-income homes, energy conservation projects for  state buildings, and highway construction.

Again, don't forget about the website the Good Guv's office put up to track stimulus spending: Montana Reinvestment Act. I believe this pdf -- "ARRA allocation" -- is a detailed list of the proposed expenditure, and HB 645 (pdf) is the House bill that would enact the spending proposals.

Shall we guess what House Republicans will object to? I'm betting they'll look to excise anything to do with poor kids -- like lunch program or nutrition assistance, food stamps, etc. I mean, that's been the M.O. for these folks this session, right?

By the way, if you want some hilarious reading, check out Dave Lewis' avowed "reluctance" to spend the federal stimulus money. Wouldn't that have been funny if Lewis had actually tried to block this spending package? And hasn't Dave Lewis become the Mike Lange of the 2009 legislature? Whenever I think of the GOP's efforts to block a mandate supported by 70 percent of Montanans to extend health care coverage to uninsured children, I'll think of Dave....

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Don't turn me into a cynic, Montana Legislature

by: Jay Stevens

Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 19:32:47 PM MST

Okay, I get why everyone is so keen to get the ball rolling on the stimulus package -- but to exempt all stimulus expenditures from regulation?

One bill gets straight to the issue, promising to exempt hundreds of millions in economic stimulus projects from the state's landmark environmental policies. Environmentalists are ramping up lobbying efforts as a wave of measures eroding regulatory rules gain serious traction in the face of a recession and shrinking state coffers.

"It is about jobs," said Sen. Jim Keane, a Democrat from the mining town of Butte. "But I think the issue is much bigger than that. All these projects also generate new taxes and revenue for the state government."

Proponents are hoping to ease the way for everything from new coal plants to electricity transmission lines. They say complex rules killed a utility's recently failed plan to build a coal-fired electricity plant near Great Falls; the utility now plans a smaller, natural-gas-fired plant.

Get it? It's a friggin' boondoggle. All these projects that were halted or turned away because they didn't meet contemporary requirments for keeping Montana's natural and wild spaces free from pollution will now be built, pell-mell, under the blanket of the stimulus package. (That's not to mention that the Great Falls coal plant failed because of shy investors, not environmental regulation as Keane claims.)

It's obsence.

Frankly, it's unconstitutional. Read the state constitution. Read Article II, Section 3:

All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment and the rights of pursuing life's basic necessities, enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and seeking their safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.

And lastly, it's short-sighted. So short-sighted it borders on idiocy. Build a slew of coal-fired power plants with the stimulus money? Just before an ambitious cap-and-trade program is instituted in the US? (Perhaps the cynic in me is thinking that folks want these plants built, post-haste, so they can be grandfathered in under the system and not have to buy the right to pollute after the federal regulations kick in.)

This stimulus package is an opportunity to do things right. Don't blow it.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Beware the echo chamber!

by: Jay Stevens

Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 19:13:35 PM MST

Anyone who watched the Republican strategy over the recent Congressional stimulus package had to be scratching their head. I mean...marching in lock-step in opposition to a spending plan intended to create jobs and build infrastructure...while millions were losing their jobs? What was weirder still was that the media thought, well, that the GOP was back, baby!

Sunday Frank Rich wrote a much more erudite column on this topic than I could muster. In short, Rich noted that the cable tv and talk radio doom-and-gloom talk about Obama, Congressional Democrats, and the stimulus plan and the subsequent suberserviance to the punditocracy to that message was the result of the DC-insider "echo chamber." But here, on the other side of a passed bill, and a quick look at some polls, show that -- by golly! -- people liked the stimulus bill, Democrats, and Obama! And...well...generally despise Congressional Republcians.


Overdosing on [DC insider] culture can be fatal. Because Republicans are isolated in that parallel universe and believe all the noise in its echo chamber, they are now as out of touch with reality as the "inevitable" Clinton campaign was before it got clobbered in Iowa. The G.O.P. doesn't recognize that it emerged from the stimulus battle even worse off than when it started. That obliviousness gives the president the opening to win more ambitious policy victories than last week's. Having checked the box on attempted bipartisanship, Obama can now move in for the kill.

Kos' Research 2000 poll shows that Congressional Dems gained three points during the stimulus debates, and Congressional Republicans dropped ten points to a 39-percent approval rating. And lest you think Research 2000 is biased, Gallup showed the Republican Congress critturs with a 31-percent approval rating.

So...why would, say, Dennis Rehberg shout from the rooftops his opposition to the stimulus package? Sure, there are some legitimate concerns with the bill...but then Rehberg's opposition seemed purely political. Or did the constituent calls lend him courage? Is Montana against the stimulus package by a 10-to-1 margin, or are the calls from the Representative's base, the folks whose stance on the stimulus was already created by the Rush Limbaughs and Dave Bergs of the world?

What's a politico to do? Do you believe the calls...or the polls?

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Gazette: Montanans need help now

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 08:07:09 AM MST

Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday - I had a terrible cold and got a headache whenever I looked at the computer screen. Thus...I missed this Gazette editorial that ran yesterday:

As Congress and President Barack Obama debate the final size and content of a massive federal economic stimulus bill, indications are increasing that emergency relief will be needed in Montana.

"We know there will be a greater demand for our services," said Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. "The most dramatic increase has been in food stamps"....

The stimulus packages that the U.S. House and Senate are considering at the insistence of President Barack Obama include multibillion dollar boosts for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid and extended unemployment benefits. These appropriations would be spent in local communities by the neediest citizens on groceries, medical care and other essentials.

These programs are needed by more Americans during economic downturns - the times when state governments can least afford to increase their support. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., authored the Senate proposals for Medicaid support and tax cuts. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is on record supporting proposed Senate appropriations for job creation. However, most Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., have so far said no to stimulus legislation. Those votes go against helping workers who have lost their jobs and families whose income has shrunk. This state needs a boost to get through this recession, a boost only the U.S. government can provide. We call on our entire delegation to support recession relief for needy Montanans.

What the Gazette doesn't mention is that this kind of spending - assistance to families and workers on the edge of poverty - is also one of the most efficient means of creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Which makes sense; giving struggling families assistance in buying a basic necessity still enables those families to, say, pay mortgage or rent payments, buy clothes and cars, and make other essential purchases. In short, the help will keep those families solvent.

Do you think Rehberg is regretting his then-politically-expedient stand against the stimulus bill a few days ago? Because it looks like the recession is hitting Montana, and the help that Rehberg's constituents need he only recently called "ideological."

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

McConnell fighting for his "people," at the cost of his constituents

by: Jay Stevens

Sat Feb 07, 2009 at 08:56:10 AM MST

So the Senate reached an agreement on a stimulus package. Details are pending, but it sounds like aid to states has been slashed, essentially risking the whole point of the package. (If state governments need to cut back spending because of budgetary shortfalls, then that'll neutralize increased federal spending.) I'm sure I'll have a long list of complaints later.

Whatever. Here's the part that interests me now: statements made by Senate minority leader McConnell:

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has the intellectual honesty to come right out and say that he's opposed to the concept that massive public expenditure will save a tailspinning economy -- and he's already sparking a lively, healthy debate on the efficacy of The New Deal and Japan's $5 trillion infrastructure binge in the 90s.

McConnell's been respectful to Barack Obama, but he's pure hell on FDR, as evidenced by tonight's peroration on the stimulus:

"But one of the good things about reading history is you learn a good deal. And, we know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work. In 1940, unemployment was still 15%. And, it's widely agreed among economists, that what got us out of the doldrums that we were in during the Depression was the beginning of World War II."

Now this is pretty much Heritage Foundation propaganda, and not supported by most economists and historians. FDR's programs had an immediate and positive impact on the US workforce; there's little doubt that the New Deal dulled the Depression's edge and paved the way for a large and prosperous middle class. And, er, wasn't World War II a huge public expenditures project, as Krugman noted?

Whatever. The point here isn't to argue about interpretation of economic history, it's this: McConnell was one of the main ringleaders for the $800-billion bank bailout bill. H*ll, remember this quote?

"This is a big moment in the Senate," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "This is the kind of vote we are sent by our people to cast."

Given that handout went to multi-billion dollar Wall Street financial institutions with few strings attached -- money that went largely unaccounted for -- it's clear which "people" sent McConnell to the Senate to cast votes for them. Hint: it's not the everyday Kentucky taxpayer.

So much for McConnell's "intellectual honesty" in opposing government expenditures to save a flagging economy, eh? When it comes to giving billions in our money to the richest people in the country -- the same people that caused the current recession -- McConnell and many of his pals are on board. But when it comes to giving our money to us -- building bridges, schools, rail, and roads, things that we can build and we can use, it's no go. Suddenly it's ideologically inconvenient.


Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Stimulus passes House -- with mass transit money and without Rehberg

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 20:08:32 PM MST

The stimulus bill passed the House -- without a single Republican vote. Why? They wanted no spending, all tax cuts.

I suppose I could write something pithy, like, "I guess they don't give a d*mn about the economy or their constituents," but of course the vote is political. An effort to defang Obama's "bipartisan" rhetoric -- can't you hear them now? "it was a partisan spending bill!" despite the myriad concessions made to the GOP -- an attempt to paint Congressional Democrats as the bad guys, and all done without a single bit of pressure. The bill didn't need any Republican votes. If it had -- like it will in the Senate -- it would have attracted Republican votes. Trust me, no one wants to be the guy who blocked the stimulus package.

In short, it's the perfect "no" vote for Dennis Rehberg.  

As promised in a press release a few days ago, Rehberg voted against the bill. Here's the rhetoric:

"Despite the name, this isn't a stimulus bill - it's an unprecedented attempt to advance the interests of very few special interest groups at the expense of hardworking taxpayers."

"There's no reason to permanently medicate a temporary illness," said Rehberg. "It's a mistake to use this legislation as the launch pad for a lot of new government programs and government jobs that we'll be paying for long after the economy has recovered. We need to quickly get the medicine where it will do the most good - in the hands of the small businesses that create jobs and the taxpayers who will keep them in business. And we need to take all necessary precautions to guard against the fleecing of the American taxpayer."

The usual fare. Note, of course, how fantastic Rehberg's claims about the bill are. As mentioned in previous posts, this bill deals little with "special interest groups" and mostly with bridges and roads. H*ll, Montana got $607 million, and here's how it'll come down:

The largest portion of the Montana money - $280 million - would be spent on highways and bridges.

Another big chunk of the stimulus money goes toward health care, jobless benefits, food stamps and other programs that benefit victims of the downturn. The state government, which administers those programs, would get almost $200 million in stimulus money.

The rest of the state money is split up among school modernization, wastewater treatment, transit, education, Head Start and low-income heating assistance.

Doesn't sound like the weird ramblings from Rehberg's press release, but it does seem like projects that Montanans would overwhelmingly support. No doubt if Rehberg's vote had been meaninful, he'd switch it in a hurry, just like he did with, say, CHIP.

Enough about our flip-floppin' gutless Representative, and on to more details about the stimulus package! First...drum roll, please...Jerrold Nadler's $3 bill amendment for mass transit...passed! On a voice vote!

Additionally, as Elana Schor notes, some good, progressive expenditures made it into the bill. Notice that most of Schor's list -- increased money for food stamps, expanded unemployment benefits, etc. -- are the most efficient means of adding jobs to the economy. And behind them, are the infrastructure projects...

The bill seems to be what's needed, but let's face it, there's nothing in this bill that's new or transformative. No overhaul for our transportation system. No carbon tax. No massive investment into green tech or energy efficiency.

I realize I may just be impatient, but this bill looks like a list of projects and programs that Democrats have favored for years, but haven't been able to implement because of Republican rule. Now, a lot of this stuff is good spending -- on schools, bridges and other things you and I will use and benefit from (unlike corporate tax cuts, say) -- but let's face it: it's the same ol' game so far...

Discuss :: (21 Comments)

More on the dropped mass transit money

by: Jay Stevens

Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 22:29:23 PM MST

Matt touched on the hubub over the economic stimulus bill. Matt's bummed they stripped mass transit from the proposal in favor of tax cuts, and I am, too.

There's a lot of reasons to like mass transit infrastructure investments. John Judis notes that high-speed rail would be the "most energy-efficient and quickest means of getting between places like Boston and New York," and that the huge investment (estimated between 30 and 40 billion) would mean a revival of US manufacturing -- jobs producing "green" technology. Additionally, infrastructure investment would produce jobs at a much higher rate and more quickly than tax cuts. Which makes sense, if you think about it. Building a bridge, say, has the immediate benefit of creating jobs to build the bridge, and the long-term benefit to the economy of improving commerce across the river. Building green infrastructure has the additional benefit of being more energy-efficient. Conservative tax-cutting plans give rich people a lot more money, but the rest of us little.

Oh yeah, and infrastructure investment is wildly popular.

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 390 words in story)

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Purely Hypothetical, of course, but - The best candidate for the Republicans for US Senate is:
Corey Stapleton
Dennis Rehberg
Marc Racicot
Champ Edmunds
Steve Daines
Harris Himes
Kreyton Kerns


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