Gang of Senate Moderates Roughs Up the Stimulus Bill

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Senators/gang members Susan Collins and Ben Nelson. Photo: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images, istockphoto

As far as gangs go, the one being led by Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Susan Collins is relatively harmless. No drive-bys, violent initiation rituals, or witness intimidation. Instead, the group of about eighteen Senate moderates is trying to reshape the stimulus package to make it more palatable to a bipartisan coalition, with a goal of holding a vote as soon as this evening. But they are a gang, after all, and any gang worth its salt won't shy away from brute force to get results. So Nelson, Collins, and company are hard at work ruthlessly slashing $100 billion in stimulus spending from the bill, much of it from education assistance to states, which critics don't find especially appropriate for an emergency job-creation bill. And they're taking hostages, some say — specifically, the president, the Senate, and the entire nation, all of whom have little choice but to follow the gang's lead.

• Matt Yglesias agrees that "the merits of a lot of these specific ideas are contestable, and I wouldn’t cry to see some of them eliminated in favor of other, better ideas but the notion of just stripping some of this stuff out in favor of doing less and hoping for the best is lunatic." [Think Progress]

• Steve Benen isn't a fan of the Nelson-Collins group's efforts. "If the 'centrists' don't get the spending cuts they want, they're prepared to scrap the stimulus package altogether. The Nelson/Collins group isn't just holding the president hostage, it's holding the economy hostage." [Market Movers/Portfolio]

• Paul Krugman, who believes the stimulus plan "should be substantially bigger," says it's "destructive" that Republicans want to make the stimulus smaller, "to turn it into little more than another round of Bush-style tax cuts." Obama "must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk." [NYT]

• Jennifer Rubin retorts, "That nice Olympia Snowe and that tough Marine Jim Webb want to put the nation at risk? Shocking!" [Contentions/Commentary]

• Daniel Drezner thinks that if the moderates want to trim $100 billion from the stimulus package, it likely won't mean "the difference between recovery and grass huts." Obama could "claim bipartisan support, and then a package is passed." [Foreign Policy]

• Steve Pearlstein would love to have Ben Nelson explain to him "why a dollar spent by the government, or government contractor, to hire doctors, statisticians and software programmers is less stimulative than a dollar spent on hiring civil engineers and bulldozer operators and guys waving orange flags to build highways, which is what the senator says he prefers." [WP]

• David Brooks believes that with "exploding federal deficits" sure to "influence every piece of domestic legislation," a gang of moderates could become a permanent fixture in the legislative process. But "there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today." [NYT]

• Gerald Seib concurs with Brooks, predicting that "the quest for changes in the stimulus package just might have brought together a group of men and women who could form a durable centrist bloc to hold sway in the era of Obama." [Capital Journal/WSJ]

• Rick Klein writes that the gang of moderates "may not produce precisely the measure Obama wants, and embracing the Senate efforts risks angering the left. But it’s hard to hate the process (and that was always going to be a major part of the message under Obama’s plan)." [Note/ABC News]