Ezra Klein attempts to explain what went wrong with the stimulus:
The original stimulus package should’ve been bigger. Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says the Treasury Department originally asked for $1.4 trillion. Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, wanted $1.2 trillion. What we got was a shade under $800 billion, and something more like $700 billion when you took out the AMT patch that was jammed into the package. So we knew it was too small then, and the recession it was designed to fight turned out to be larger than we’d predicted. In the end, we took a soapbox racer to a go-kart track and then realized we were competing against actual cars.
Who is lying?
Here are a few citations of quotes from President Obama in early 2009:
There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable. It will certainly add to the budget deficit in the short-term. But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy.
The emphasis is mine. This is in reference to the $775 billion stimulus plan that was on the table at time. The actual bill passed was roughly $100 billion larger. Isn’t the implication of this remark that the bill’s size was adequate? That’s what I would conclude from the next remark.
ELKHART, Indiana, Feb 9 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Monday that the economic stimulus bill being considered by Congress is the right size and scope and warned that the country’s troubles will worsen if it is not passed promptly.
‘It is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform it for the 21st century,’ Obama said of the more than $800 billion bill at a rally in Elkhart, Indiana.
And this observation from the New York Times is elucidating:
But participants in the private meetings said there did not seem to be agreement on the scale of the package. Mr. Reid said many economists have urged a bill of $800 billion to $1.2 trillion, while Mr. Obama’s advisers estimated legislation at no more than $775 billion.
Do these quotes paint a picture of a White House that was fighting for a significantly larger bill but had decided to settle for only $800 billion let alone a White House that really wanted a bill twice as large? Or does it suggest a White House that had either decided on a $775 billion bill or had made a political calculation to ask for no more than $775 billion?
Is there serious evidence from the limited debate on the stimulus that the Democratic leadership was fighting for a significantly larger bill? I don’t recall such a fight.
This might be a good time to quote James Graham’s poem
He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the touch
To win or lose it all
You can reasonably take the position that the president’s economic or political advisors were wrong. You can reasonably take the position that either the president was lying then or the Congressmen quoted in Ezra’s piece are lying now. My own view is that they’re remembering things that didn’t actually happen.
You can take the White House’s position which has the virtue of consistency: they asked for and got what they wanted and it’s doing just what they thought it would do. It just that the economy was in much worse shape than they thought it was.
But you can’t reasonably take the position that the stimulus didn’t work because the amount that the president really wanted was shot down. Not unless you’ve got some facts that don’t seem to be in evidence right now.