Democrats “Emergency” Economic Plan: That’s It?

Voters can be forgiven for not placing a great deal of faith in Congressional Democrats if all they can come up with for a lame duck session is an “emergency” economic plan that looks like this:

After consulting with Barack Obama, Democratic leaders are likely to call Congress back to work after the election in hopes of passing legislation that would include extended jobless benefits, money for food stamps and possibly a tax rebate, officials said Saturday. The bill’s total cost could reach $150 billion, these officials said.

There’s nothing wrong with extending unemployment insurance, which has a countercyclical effect, and as a general matter, I think that food stamps for the working poor are a good idea. But all of this does little to really solve any long-term economic problems. Ditto with tax rebates: if we are going to try to fix structural problems, goosing consumption doesn’t figure to fit the bill.

The Democrats’ previous stimulus package also offered several billions to help states pay for Medicaid, which is certainly useful. But none of this really reflects anything but a quick patchwork, which ironically might derail more fundamental reforms if an Obama Administration emerges.

The House package also included money for road and bridge construction, “a relatively easy way to create jobs and pump money into the economy.” But this needs to be part of a longer-term plan for greener infrastructure. Pouring lots of concrete goes in just the opposite direction.

It also doesn’t really wash to say that minimal efforts are the only things to get through Congress: Senate Republicans filibustered even these minor provisions.

Democrats could use a re-education in Cheney’s Law: don’t negotiate against yourself. Propose something big that expresses your values and priorities. If you don’t have anything more than that, then that speaks more loudly than anything else.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.