Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Again? That Was Quick

The week screamed by and I barely noticed. Some items pinging my radar today:

In the Whole Lotta Good, Little Bitta Crap department we have Obama capping a week of signing SCHIP and capping bailed-out-executive compensation at $500K (sniff, sob) by reversing course on federally-funded faith-based organizations and deciding they can go ahead and keep discriminating in hiring after all.
Obama clearly singled out the policy during a July campaign speech, declaring that "if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them — or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion."

But once he won the election, religious conservatives began lobbying Obama and his transition team on the issue.

Thursday's announcement surprised and pleased religious conservatives, who had a strong ally in Bush and had been pressing the new Democratic president to revoke his earlier promise.

While this may not be as bad as it looks on the surface--a review process has been put in place to "ensure that federal programs and practices involving grants or contracts to faith-based organizations are consistent with law," allowing specific grants to be evaluated for legality in hiring--the glossy picture doesn't show the details of what was probably intended to be a compromise but has come back looking like capitulation. Capitulation to conservatives, again, for no apparent gain other than the ability to cite specific examples of attempted cooperation and accomodation of decidedly non-liberal viewpoints, while giving a tacit imprimatur to religious discrimination and using federal funds for just a little bit of proselytizing on the side.

In other capitulation news, I think I'm capitulating on trying to understand the machinations at work as the Senate holds the stimulus bill up by its ankles and shakes it in hopes that something good falls out of its pockets. It came in at $880B, climbed to $920B, moderate Republicans tried to trim it to $650B, and now it's settled at about $800B. And still no one is sure what needs to be in it and what needs to be out. I sure as hell don't know.

Some items on the cutting board included $99 million in technology upgrades for the State Department's National Cyber Security Initiative, $200 million for benefits for Filipino veterans, $55 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, and $122 million for the Coast Guard to purchase new or renovated polar icebreakers.

But senators also debated whether to keep in the bill numerous big-ticket items that their colleagues had fought for. About $14 billion in Pell grant funding appeared to have survived, but some senators were targeting at least $10 billion in other education programs. Billions of dollars in energy efficiency incentives and state aid also were under review by the centrist group.

Could the problem be that the scope of the stimulus package is simply too far-reaching and hopelessly broad? We are in a state of panic and everyone agrees that somebody has to do something right now about it, but one of the first rules of surviving a disaster is to compartmentalize. We need economic triage, and what's coming out of the House and Senate at the moment is the equivalent of the guests in a ballroom that's caught fire running around screaming with their hands in the air trying to put out all the fires and collect all the fur coats and save the champagne and finish the quickie in behind the stairs and hey how about we strip that old wallpaper while we're in here instead of assessing, planning, and executing a series of small tasks in order.

Don't get me wrong; I love Filipino veterans as much as the next guy, and appreciate the need for polar icebreakers--although if the Coast Guard can just wait a few months, all the polar ice should be gone anyway--but I don't know that their funding belongs in this bill. The on-fire ballroom absolutely needs some ADA-compliant toilets and low-energy compact fluorescent lighting, but the plumbers and electricians should really wait to get in there until the fire is out or there might not be enough money left over to pay the firemen, and then no ballroom left to upgrade. Can we not have a series of stimulus bills that are graded to address the most pressing needs first?

That, of course, would require a majority of senators to agree on those most pressing needs, and prospects for that are grim.

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