There was an awkward moment for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-sort of-PA)
Tuesday when Megyn Kelly of Fox News asked him about a provision in the
stimulus package he'd just voted for of which he evidently was unaware.
The provision creates a National Coordinator for Health Information
Technology who will monitor treatments to make sure what your doctor is
doing is what the federal government deems cost effective. It's modeled
on the practice in Britain where elderly patients are denied expensive
treatments because they are likely to die soon anyway.
If the provision had been law, Sen. Specter, 79, might have been denied
the cancer treatments that have kept him alive.
Stuff like this is why there should have been hearings on the stimulus
package, Sen. Specter told Ms. Kelly. But it was his vote, and those of
Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, "moderate" Republicans from
Maine, which rushed the bill through without hearings. Congress will
fix the "kill Granny" provision, Sen. Specter assured Ms. Kelly. But
it's a lot harder to remove a bad idea once it's become law than to keep
it from being enacted in the first place.
Whatever you think of the merits of the "kill Granny" provision, what's
it doing in an economic stimulus bill?
The greatest achievement of Bill Clinton's presidency, many think, was
welfare reform. Both the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill
restore the funding system of the old Aid to Families With Dependent
Children (AFDC) that President Clinton reformed.
"The new welfare system created by the stimulus bills is actually worse
than the old AFDC program because it rewards the states more heavily to
increase their caseloads," said Heritage Foundation analysts Robert
Rector and Katherine Bradley.
What is a provision encouraging people to quit work and go on welfare
doing in an economic stimulus bill? And, as with the "kill Granny"
provision, shouldn't such a major policy change be subject to debate
before it is enacted into law?
President Obama said it would be a "catastrophe" if the stimulus bill
wasn't passed as is, on his timetable. That view wasn't shared by the
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which said the economy should
start to recover by the end of the year even without a stimulus bill of
any kind, and said the bill the president wants would do nothing to help
the economy this year, and though it would help somewhat next year,
would hurt economic growth in the years after 2010.
The president has been disingenuous in describing the bill, and its
"What it does not contain is not a single pet project, not a single
earmark," Mr. Obama said in his news conference Monday. But how would
you describe the $30 million in the bill to protect, among other things,
the habitat of the salt marsh harvest mouse in House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi's district? Or the $2.25 billion for national parks sought by
Craig Obey, chief lobbyist for the National Parks Conservation
Association, and the son of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis), chairman of the
House Appropriations Committee? Or the $8 billion for a light rail line
between Los Angeles and Los Vegas, sought by Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-Nev)? Or the $300 million for, among other things,
electric golf carts which would be built in North Dakota, home of Sen.
Byron Dorgan, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee? Or...the
list is legion.
"Some of the projects bear the prime characteristics of pork -- tailored
to benefit specific interests or to have thinly disguised links to local
projects," said the Associated Press.
Critics of the porkalooza want to do nothing, President Obama said at a
rally in Fort Myers, Fla, Tuesday.
"In truth, few of those involved in the stimulus debate are suggesting
that the government should not take action to aid the economy," noted
the Washington Post.
Mr. Obama is still in campaign mode, because he is very good at it, and
it is easier than governing. But at some point, people care more about
performance than about the promises you make. That point may be closer
than Mr. Obama realizes.