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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Stimulus, GITMO, and the Drip Factor

In news, the so called drip factor is when there is a neverending stream of relatively bad news or press about a particular subject. Each specific piece is in and of itself not necessarily a back breaker but after enough negative press the cumulative effect becomes back breaking. The best example of the drip factor was Iraq. After a while the public turned on the war because of the cumulative effect of the never ending violence. It wasn't one specific car bomb, but rather the cumulative effect of the car bombs.

President Obama may be facing the drip factor with both of his main priorities right now. For both the stimulus and GITMO, we are beginning to see the cumulative effect of the drip factor and we are likely to see support for both begin to drop off in the next few weeks. Each has a unique dynamic but both drip factors threaten the very fabric of his Presidency. With the stimulus, we are seeing a rush of drips however the stimulus ought to be law in the next three weeks. As such, the rush of drips will be balanced against the relative speed with which this will become law. Yet, three weeks is an awfully long time and what is occurring is a serious undressing of this bill and an exposure of many of its warts.

The analysis of this bill is everywhere. CNN has a balanced assessment. The New York Times also has a balanced assessment. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal excoriates the stimulus. The Conservative publication the National Review largely echoes the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, Amanda Carpenter of Townhall has uncovered some very troubling things in this bill regarding universal health care.

$600 million is allocated on page 50 of the bill to double funding to pay doctors and nurses employed by the National Health Services Corps. The bill states: "A key component of attaining universal health care reform will be ensuring the supply of primary health care providers family medicine, internal medicine, pediatricians, dentists, and nurses."And, as written today, the bill gives billions to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle's to conduct "comparative medical research" and issue a final report. Under the bill univeral health care advocate Daschle would receive $400 million to compare various medial treatments. The language, on page 135 of the bill, says it would fund "conduct, support, or synthesize research that compares the clinical outcomes,effectiveness, and appropriateness of items, services, and procedures that are used to prevent, diagnose, or treat diseases, disorders, and other health conditions; and encourage the development and use of clinical registries, clinical data networks, and other forms of electronic health data that can be used to generate or obtain outcomes data."

This is frankly indefensible. There's no way anyone can argue that giving the Department of Health and Human Services billions simply for research on universal health care will stimulate the economy. That's a blatant attempt to pad liberal causes under the guise of stimulus.

Beyond this, we have recently found out that everyone from the National Endowment for Arts, the National Mall in D.C., and even ACORN will be getting a piece of the stimulus. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office raises doubts about how quickly the stimulus can be spent. CNN reports that with interest the cost of the stimulus will be $1.2 trillion. We've also found out that the stimulus will spend $66 billion on education alone. To put this in perspective, President Bush's entire 2001 education budget was $36 billion.

The worst thing from the perspective of the Obama campaign is that their answer to all of these criticisms at once seems to be that time is urgent and we need to act now. You can't respond to a whole host of different sorts of problems with the exact answer.

Looking beyond expected House approval of his $825 billion economic stimulus plan, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the nation is at a "perilous moment" requiring swift and decisive action.

"We don't have a moment to spare," Obama said in the East Room of the White House, just hours before a crucial House roll call vote. The measure intended to steady the ricocheting economy was expected to pass, but likely with little of the bipartisan support that Obama wanted. The issue then goes to the Senate where the new president hopes to draw more GOP backing.

Obama tempered the sense of urgency in his voice with his observation that he and corporate leaders "left our meeting confident that we can still turn our economy around."

You can't continue to respond to all sorts of different criticisms with the same answer. This may in fact be a perilous moment but that doesn't explain why the stimulus spends billions to allow HHS to research universal health care.

Worst of all from the perspective of President Obama is that this stimulus is almost six hundred pages. It has now become the political story. The analysis is only beginning. In the next two and a half weeks we are likely to see all sorts of new things discovered. The drip factor is only getting started and it will intensify as this gets near passage. The most likely effect will be a serious erosion of support for the bill as it passes. As such, by the time President Obama signs it into law, he will be signing a fairly unpopular bill. More extreme is the possibility that a groundswell of opposition will occur and the public will demand that the bill get slowed down and debated more fully.

Regarding GITMO, we have a different dynamic filled with the same sort of pitfalls. Since President Obama announced that he would close GITMO we have learned of two new terrorists that left GITMO only to wind up on the battlefield against our troops. We've also learned that several families of 9/11 victims are outraged by President Obama's decision to close the prison and demand that trials move forward immediately. The problem for President Obama here is time. If in a week we heard about two new terrorists that wound up on the battlefield from GITMO, how many will we hear about in a year? No one knows the magic number. What if twenty more terrorists are discovered that left GITMO and wound up on a battlefield? How will the public feel about giving them criminal trials then? How much criticism from families of 9/11 victims will there need to be before the public turns against the decision? Keep in mind, closing GITMO isn't necessarily all that popular now. It polls about 50/50. After a year of drip, drip, drip, those numbers are bound to fall. By the time President Obama actually puts together a plan it is very likely a minority will support the decision at all. It appeas on this one President Obama has an even tougher problem regarding the drip factor.

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