Ezra Klein has a great short post today about what I consider perhaps the biggest mystery of the last couple years: the stimulus that didn't grow. Had I been blogging back in spring 2009, I would have said that it didn't really matter if centrist Senators trimmed a few hundred billion dollars from the stimulus package, because it could only be spent over time anyway, and that an extra $200 billion or whatever would certainly be passed well before it would have been spent had it been part of the original bill.
In that, I would have been dead wrong. And if my job here is to explain things like this, I can't; I find it completely mysterious that Congress has not, at the very least, poured money to the states to prevent layoffs. Because I don't understand it, I'm not even sure whether to place the blame with the White House, with Senate Democrats, with House Democrats...I don't know.
Here's what I do know. Regardless of what anyone says, the budget deficit is a voting issue for precisely no one. No one. It wasn't for people who voted for Ross Perot, it isn't for the Tea Party crowd today. Moreover, even today, the Democrats remain the party of smaller deficits, and the Republicans remain the party of large deficits. Nor do I see a logical interest group alignment against at the very least emergency aid to the states. I do, of course, see the GOP decision to block whatever they can, but I'll note that Republicans have defected on Supreme Court nominations, on the original stimulus, on Frank-Dodd, on the small business bill that the Senate's been working on, on various controversial nominations...so while it's certainly correct to say that Republicans have filibustered everything and forced the Democrats to find 60 votes, it's not correct to say that Republicans have united to block everything they could.
Which leaves me, as I said, puzzled. Could Barack Obama and his administration been more aggressive about explaining basic Keynesian ideas to Washington opinion leaders? Sure. Would that have changed anything? I don't know. Are Democrats on the Hill gunshy about deficits when they should be far more worried about economic growth? Seems like it -- but why? I don't know. Is this just a question of numbers, in which the fact of 41 Republican Senators is really, when all is said and done, the whole story? I think that's very much true on some issues -- but on this one? Once again, I don't know.
I'm certain that it's not because voters actually care about the deficit. I'm certain that it's not because of genuine Republican concern about the deficit -- a quick look at GOP positions on extending the Bush tax cuts make it clear that they continue to be for larger, not smaller, deficits (and that goes too for any Democrats who want to make permanent lower tax revenues without an offset). Beyond that: well, I don't understand it.