By Jim Brown
Thursday, February 12th, 2009
New Orleans, Louisiana
SEN. DAVID VITTER AND THE STIMULUS PACKAGE
Louisiana’s US Sen. David Vitter seems to be leading the charge of Republican opposition to the proposed stimulus package. Let’s get things straight. We are talking here about the federal government stimulus package, not the stimulus being offered by Baton Rouge porn star stormy Daniels, who says she is running against the incumbent senator in his reelection effort next year. Vitter has been in the forefront of opposing virtually every major plank of the President’s proposals.
Just last week in the Senate chamber, Sen. Vitter took the mike and became almost incredulous over what he perceived to be massive wasteful spending. He was perfectly abuzz over the sum of $150 million that, according to the Senator, would pay for “honey bee insurance.” Vitter called out to his fellow senators challenging “any member to come and explain what this provision was.”
But if one reads the proposed legislation, the provision that raised the shackles of the Senator was a disaster insurance program for all livestock producers. Beekeepers no doubt would be minor beneficiaries. Proposals before Congress now simply continue a program put in place by Congress last year, overriding a veto by President Bush.
Now stick with me on this one. The Senate voted twice in 2008 on the so-called “honey bee insurance,” once to enact the legislation and once to override the president’s veto. Are you ready for the punchline? Sen. Vitter voted yes, in support of the same program he’s railing about now, not just once, but twice. I guess the Senator isn’t against honeybees after all.
Louisiana agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain makes the case that this disaster insurance program for all livestock producers is extremely important to Louisiana. “We suffered major livestock losses in Louisiana after Katrina and Rita,” says Strain. “If a major hurricane approaches Louisiana, it’s just impossible to move all the cattle off our coastal ranges. Without the federal government’s disaster insurance program, we could lose our entire cattle industry along the coast.”
Commissioner Strain points out that the value of animal commodities in Louisiana approaches $3 billion dollars. This includes the worth of cattle, horses, poultry, swine, rabbits, ostrich, quail and pheasant among the extensive list of animals raised for sale. And yes Senator, honeybees.
So it turns out that Sen. Vitter is really not against honeybees. He is using them to make what he and other Republican Senators say is their principled objection to the President’s stimulus plan. Their problem is that they have not yet been able to offer an effective alternative to what has been put on the table by the Obama administration. Instead of setting out a specific alternative plan, Republican senators so far look shallow and are perceived as doing little more than expressing unease about big government, picking apart particular spending ideas, and calling for more tax cuts.
There are a number of flaws in the President’s plan. But Republican legislators have to do a lot more than being attack dogs nipping at the margins as the administration’s program continues to move forward. Vitter has a golden opportunity to craft and advocate an alternative plan that lets him step into a major Republican leadership vacuum. Right now, Republican ideologues seem to be offering little more than being for tax cuts. Vitter could lead the charge to move beyond Obama world, and paint broader strokes towards more pragmatic solutions that do not have to fit a preconceived Republican ideological cookbook.
Sen. John McCain (R. — Arizona), seems to be one Republican on the right track. “We can either fight the Democratic proposals, which would increase the deficit incredibly and mortgage our children’s futures and not beneficially stimulate our economy, which we will do, in many respects. But we have to have a proposal of our own.” Vitter needs to join the fray, and lead an effort to offer an alternative to the current administration stimulus package. And just because the legislation has passed the Senate, it will come back for final approval one more time after first being worked over in a conference committee. So there is plenty of time to offer alternatives. What should be included?
Vitter and his colleagues might jump on the theme that the Obama administration is mistakenly going it alone. Does it make more sense to find a global answer to a global crisis? You walk into a Wal-Mart in Louisiana, and 60% of all the goods sold there have come from China. Yet China is experiencing its own major financial problems. So are most of the other industrialized countries. If globalization is to be sustainable, should we not be talking about ways to expand the availability of global credit, not just credit here in the US?
This whole mess started out with a crisis in banking and housing. Has the Obama administration put this initial financial crisis aside? Should the US government take equity positions in banks? How do you redo mortgage terms that will stop major housing foreclosures? Do you give authority to bankruptcy judges to redo these terms? If the banking crisis caused all this initial domino effect, why are we not crafting solutions head on right now?
And how about infrastructure investments? We are talking about a massive financial commitment that seems both rushed and fragmentary. Are we doing enough for the stimulus by just investing in bridges and highways, but not considering other options to get a major return? An information highway of WiFi? What about a national electric grid or major emphasis on medical technology? There are a number of solid needs that are smart fiscally, and can bring about significant stimulus returns. Sen. Vitter and his colleagues should be the party of ideas and specific alternatives. Right now, they are perceived to be little more than the loyal opposition.
Rather than offering a specific alternative, Vitter and many of his Republican colleges may feel that opposition alone is enough. . If the package succeeds at reviving the economy, it won’t be in the short term. If it fails, they can say, I told you so. And Vitter’s sole priority is to just to get through the 2010 election successfully. So maybe he has it all figured out. But he needs to think his “oppose but offer no options” strategy through carefully. Bees aren’t the only stingers. Louisiana voters will have the same option in the voting booth.
“The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.”
Henry KissingerPeace and JusticeJim Brown
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of
Jim also has a new book out on his views of. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. .
Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.