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Why I Support the Economic Stimulus

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President Barack Obama on Monday said that if Congress does not quickly pass an economic stimulus package the nation will slip into a crisis so deep that 'we may be unable to reverse' it. Video by AP

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By Arlen Specter
Monday, February 9, 2009

I am supporting the economic stimulus package for one simple reason: The country cannot afford not to take action.

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The unemployment figures announced Friday, the latest earnings reports and the continuing crisis in banking make it clear that failure to act will leave the United States facing a far deeper crisis in three or six months. By then the cost of action will be much greater -- or it may be too late.

Wave after wave of bad economic news has created its own psychology of fear and lowered expectations. As in the old Movietone News, the eyes and ears of the world are upon the United States. Failure to act would be devastating not just for Wall Street and Main Street but for much of the rest of the world, which is looking to our country for leadership in this crisis.

The legislation known as the "moderates" bill, hammered out over two days by Sens. Susan Collins, Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and myself, preserves the job-creating and tax relief goals of President Obama's stimulus plan while cutting less-essential provisions -- many of them worthy in themselves -- that are better left to the regular appropriations process.

Our $780 billion bill would save or create up to 4 million jobs, helping to offset the loss of 3.6 million jobs since December 2007. The bill cuts some $110 billion from the $890 billion Senate version, which would actually be $940 billion if floor amendments for tax credits on home and car purchases and money for the National Institutes of Health are retained.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the proposed cuts "do violence to what we are trying to do for the future," especially on education. Her objections are a warning to conservatives that more cuts would be unlikely to win House approval. They are also an admission of the high price that moderates have been able to extract for their support of stimulus legislation.

If a stimulus bill doesn't pass, there won't be any money for Title I education programs. The moderates' bill provides marginally less money for Title I than the House and Senate bills. But while it's less than supporters want, this proverbial half a loaf beats no loaf by a mile.

In health funding, both the House and Senate bills contain billions of dollars for wellness and prevention programs, including for smoking cessation, prenatal screening and counseling, education, and immunization. The moderates' bill, regrettably but necessarily, cancels this funding on the grounds that such programs are better left to the regular appropriations process.

"In politics," John Kennedy used to say, "nobody gets everything, nobody gets nothing and everybody gets something." My colleagues and I have tried to balance the concerns of both left and right with the need to act quickly for the sake of our country. The moderates' compromise, which faces a cloture vote today, is the only bill with a reasonable chance of passage in the Senate.

The writer is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania.


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