Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here comes the stimulus package...

Edit later on 1/27 to add the results of Tuesday's House Rules Committee hearing...

I am *such* a geek sometimes.

As I type this, the House is debating H. Res. 88. the resolution governing the rules of debate for H. R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Being somewhat bored with the debate points that are meeting stereotypical expectations ("the economy sucks, government action is needed" vs. "the economy sucks, the free market and tax cuts for corporations will cure all"), I decided to check out some of the amendments proposed for H. R. 1.

I don't have time to go into all of them (over 200 were submitted!), but here are the AZ delegation highlights -

From the ever-reliable CD6 Republican Jeff Flake ('ever-reliable' = consistently opposes pretty near everything that might benefit average citizens) -

Amendment 128, "Would indicate that Members shall not influence discretionary funding by agencies or state and local officials on behalf of campaign contributors."

That actually sounded almost reasonable, until I read the actual text of his proposal.

From the .pdf linked above -
Members of Congress shall not provide executive agencies or State and local officials with recommendations, either directly or indirectly, concerning agency decisions to commit, obligate, or expend funds made available pursuant to this Act for a specific project on behalf of a potential funding recipient that is associated with a contribution to a Member's principal campaign committee or leadership political action committee.

Ummm...that language is broad enough to bar Congressfolk from talking to other government agencies and officials about projects that benefit Americans because some of those who benefit may have given to one or another campaign. For instance, I can personally testify to the fact that at least one contributor to Harry Mitchell's campaigns has utilized the light rail system in Tempe and Phoenix.

Would that fact then bar Congressman Mitchell (and his staffers) from discussing the allocation and use of some stimulus money with Valley Metro and local and county officials? That lack of communication would make for a lousy planning process.

Now, I admit that I'm not a lawyer and may be reading too much into this, but Jeff Flake has consistently opposed the idea of the public benefitting from the expenditure of public funds.

Just something to keep in mind if Flake decides to make official his long-rumored interest in the AZ governor's office.

Other Flake amendment highlights (with my comments) -

#129 would "prohibit funds from being used for any duck pond, museum, skate park, equestrian center, dog park, ski hill, historic home, ice rink, splash playground, or speaker system" (even I don't think that stuff belongs in an emergency stimulus package),

#130 would "strike funding in the bill for the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts" (Flake is consistent - he goes after anything resembling arts funding whenever an opportunity presents itself),

#131 would "strike $6 billion in funding for construction, alteration or repair of federal buildings to improve energy efficiency and conservation" (why is the "fiscal hawk" Flake opposing short term spending with long-term benefits??),

#132 would "strike funding for Amtrak" (sacrifice the already woefully inadequate support for public transit? Go after something that benefits non-corporate-jet-owning Americans? Classic Flake...),

#133 would "strike funding for the National Mall Revitalization Fund" (there's a reason that the Reps have latched onto this one as they attack the stimulus package - it's a waste of money. How does giving Congressfolk a prettier walk to work help the country as a whole?),

#134 would "strike funding for Americorps" (Cutting Americorps, an organization that fights illiteracy, helps build affordable housing, cleans parks and streams, provides disaster relief, and more? Maybe Flake would leave it alone if it agreed to help build opulent office buildings or set up training programs for minimum wage janitorial jobs.)

Jeff Flake was not the only member of the AZ delegation to submit an amendment for consideration.

Gabrielle Giffords (D-CD8) submitted #167, which would "extend the eligibility through 2012 of Section 1011(a)(1) of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003." In English, this would extend federal reimbursement of emergency health services provided to undocumented aliens. (A decent idea that would help keep many AZ hospitals solvent, but I'm not sure that it's stimulus package-worthy) and #75, which would "revise the grant program for eligible renewable energy property so that projects would be eligible for grants based on when they commence construction, rather than when they are placed in service" (not quite sure what this one does, other than to possibly get some reimbursement funds back into circulation quickly.)

Raul Grijalva (D-CD7) submitted #96, which would "increase Workforce Investment Act funding from $4 billion to $4.1 billion; increase funding for youth literacy under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by $500 million; and provide $250 million for the Adult Education State Grants under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act" (while this isn't the infrastructure spending that I tend to prefer, it is spending "now" that has long-term benefits.)

Harry Mitchell (D-CD5) submitted #60 which would "make current capital gains and estate tax cuts permanent" (OK, Harry and I disagree on this one, but more importantly, it seems unlikely that Congress will approve a measure that almost exclusively benefits the wealthiest 1% of Americans when the working and middle classes in this country are suffering so much) and #61, which would "prevent the automatic pay adjustment for Members of Congress from going into effect in 2010" (a great idea that probably wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of passing as a stand-alone measure. It may have a chance here though.)

Note: Mitchell's press release on the anti-pay raise amendment is here.

Now there's no guarantee that all or even any of these or the other proposed amendments to H.R. 1 will be considered by the full House. The House's Rules Committee will meet in less than an hour (3:30 p.m. Eastern, 1:30 p.m. AZ time) to determine which amendments will be in order.

BTW - looking at the amendments and the underlying bill, there's a *lot* of pork attached to this bill that doesn't seem to be "stimulating", and before you ask, it's from both parties.

It would be nice if these folks could focus on the task at hand; "business as usual" (as much as that itself should be changed) can wait until after the heavy lifting of addressing the economic crisis is done.

...In other Mitchell-related news, The Arizona Guardian reports that Seth Scott, Harry Mitchell's spokesman since his first run for Congress, is moving on and will announce his future plans shortly.

I've known Seth since 2006 when I first walked in to the Mitchell campaign office to volunteer. His intelligence, friendliness and calm perspective will be missed, and I wish him well (and expect him to *do* well) in his future career wherever that may take him.


Edit to add -

Well, I was right - most of the proposed amendments weren't found to be in order (only 11 out of over 200 were so found, in fact). The only AZ delegation submittal that will receive floor consideration was Flake's anti-Amtrak one.

A number of the other amendments were simply added to the bill by the Rules Committee, including Flake's move to strike funding for the National Mall Revitalization Fund.

Expect a Flake press release touting that one. :)

I'm pretty sure (though not absolutely sure, given the disregard for public and mass transit by the bill's authors) that Flake's anti-Amtrak amendment won't pass, but the underlying bill will pass. The only question will be how many Dem members representing Rep-leaning districts will be released by the Majority Whip to vote against the measure.

End edit...

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