How could anyone take a principled stand against the $789 billion economic stimulus bill? Any opposition to this massive expansion of the federal government must be sheer political posturing. Or so said Newsweek magazine's Jonathan Alter.
Alter said on MSNBC's Feb. 11 "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" that congressional Republicans oppose the stimulus bill based on an ill-conceived, low-percentage bet that the proposal would fail.
"Well, they're betting on the 30 percent chance, as Joe Biden put it, that it's not going to work," Alter said. "Then they can say, ‘I told you so, it didn't do any good.'"
Alter said the ultimate reason they oppose the stimulus is the fear that if they didn't, they would lose a primary election, and not that the legislation is a larded-up government spending pork bill.
"But really I think their main point here is they're trying to avoid a primary challenge," Alter said. "The first duty of every member of Congress, in his or her mind, is to get reelected, right? And what these Republican members fear more than anything else is somebody to their right, who says, ‘See, Joe Schmo is just a big-government liberal, even though he claims he's a Republican,' and then they mount a primary challenge."
So according to Alter, the fear of a primary challenge from a right-wing "extremist" is why Republicans - 226 out of 229 in both the House and the Senate - opposed the stimulus.
"And in primaries, sometimes you get like 9-10 percent turnout," Alter continued. "So, a few wing nuts, a few extremists can actually determine the primary. These members know that and the risk of facing an expensive primary challenge is bigger than the risk of that they might get knocked out of what's usually a safely Republican district by a Democrat in a fall election."
However, there are reasonable voices without political interests at heart, not facing a primary challenge that is, that oppose the entire concept of this stimulus package. The Cato Institute took out a full-page ad in major newspapers across the United States that included hundreds of economists - Nobel laureates and other prominent scholars - that opposed this stimulus for philosophical and practical reasons.