The deal that House and Senate Democrats, joined by 3 Republican Senators basically thrust Republican Senator Susan Collins into the position of the decider over the fate of the bill. Last time I looked, I don't recall that we elected Susan Collins to be our leader. But that is exactly what happened here.
Some of the most important parts of the bill - $25 billion for a state fiscal stabilization fund, $16 billion in sorely needed school construction funding and billions for health insurance for unemployed - all were cut by Susan Collins, who threatened to walk away from the bill if these cuts were not kept intact. These provisions were critical though to helping the states that are in dire fiscal straights. Take for example New York.
New York State has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, and some predict that New York City may face an unemployment rate over 10 percent in the next few months. Yet, the state is currently borrowing $90 million a week from the federal government to shore up its insolvent unemployment fund. Or take the example of California with its 9.3 percent unemployment rate and insolvent unemployment fund. Moreover, these states desperately need the school construction funding to build new schools and to create new jobs. Unfortunately, the final stimulus bill cuts those key areas of funding yet allocates close to 9 percent of the bill on tax breaks to save people from paying the alternative minimum tax and a total of 35 percent of the bill goes to tax cuts. As Senator Tom Harkin correctly questions: how is this stimulus?
In the end, President Obama left the details of crafting the bill to Congressional Democrats rather than coming to Congress with the details worked out. By standing back and letting Congress decide the plan's fine points, the President allowed for a kitchen sink approach to the stimulus bill. Only time will tell now whether this approach will work. But by slashing some of the most important parts of this bill, as Congressional negotiators did yesterday, we have a weakened bill - and that is more than unfortunate.