Does the press have a lot on its hands these days, or what?
I’ve lost count of how many trillions of bailout money have been laid out (fortunately for all of us, Bloomberg keeps track: $8.5 trillion and counting). Layoffs are being announced in the tens of thousands in a single day. The housing market continues to collapse, as does the banking industry. We have a new administration, which has created a huge appetite for any shred of news from the White House. Those two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still drone on. The news industry is collapsing. And Oklahoma is 20-1 in basketball (Beg pardon on this last one.)
But today, the heavy guns are out for the approaching-trillion-dollar stimulus package Obama is pushing through Congress. And it’s an impressive performance.
First, The New York Times has a double-barreled effort with its lead stories on page one today, one about the unprecedented education spending in the bill and the other on the massive health-care expenditures it contains.
The Times is excellent on both counts. On education, it reports that fully $150 billion of the stimulus package is allocated for learnin’. It puts the numbers in great context:
…a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget…
…would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II…
…New York would be among the biggest beneficiaries, at $760 per student, while New Jersey and Connecticut would fall near the bottom, with $427 and $409 per student, respectively. The District of Columbia would get the most per student, $1,289, according to the foundation’s analysis…
And it clearly explains the potential ramifications of implementing such an enormous plan:
Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government…
The bill would, for the first time, involve the federal government in a significant fashion in the building and renovation of schools, which has been the responsibility of states and districts…
It reveals a loophole benefiting student lenders that Congress apparently didn’t want us to see, and it gives worthy critics a prominent place:
But Republicans strongly criticized some of the proposals as wasteful spending and an ill-considered expansion of the federal government’s role, traditionally centered on aid to needy students, into new realms like local school construction.
And they were joined by some education experts from across the political spectrum in wondering how school districts could spend so many new billions so fast, whether such an outpouring of dollars would lead to higher student achievement, and what might happen in two years when the stimulus money ends.
On health care, the Times is excellent, as well, reporting that the stimulus bill would create expensive new entitlements without even a public hearing to mull it over.
Altogether, the economic recovery bill would speed $127 billion over the next two and a half years to individuals and states for health care alone, a fact that has Republicans fuming that the stimulus package is a back door to universal health coverage.
I don’t know if these are back doors to universal coverage, but these policies ought to be debated in public before such huge sums are spent on them. The NYT quotes a Democrat as saying we don’t have time for such things.
The story is also just a smart rundown of how the bill would affect health-care in the country over the next couple of years.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal leads its effort with a front-page look at how the vultures, er, lobbyists, are circling the $900 billion. The editing is unfortunate here, because the lobbyist part of the story is buried five graphs in to accommodate a “newsy” lede, which just muddles the piece.
That’s too bad, because the lobbying story would stand alone well. It includes an amusing battle between the asphalt and concrete industries, who are trying to influence which infrastructure projects get funded.
Concrete lobbyists want more money for such long-term projects as interstate highways, bridges and waterworks — projects that, not coincidentally, use more concrete. The asphalt industry prefers repaving and road repair that use more asphalt.
“When you have a road or highway that needs to be fixed quickly, asphalt is the way to go,” says Margaret Cervarich, a vice president at the National Asphalt Pavement Association.
I’ve got a novel idea: Get the lobbyists out of there and pick projects by need—whatever material it takes to build it.