In just over three weeks time, the Obama administration guided economic stimulus legislation through Congress. With virtually no assistance from the Republicans, President Obama's team pulled off the passage of the most sweeping economic measures since Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
Sure, there were missteps and miscalculations of the kind that will keep the political pundits' tongues wagging for weeks to come. But in the real world, beyond the Washington bubble, most Americans see it differently. They see President Obama delivering on his promise to marshal the resources of the federal government to lift the nation out of a deepening recession.
The bill he will sign in Denver today contains a package of tax cuts and spending that amounts to $787 billion. It may not be enough money -- and the legislation does not have everything that is needed for economic recovery -- but it is a good start.
According to Sen. Patrick Leahy's office, Vermont should see about $1 billion from this bill. Schools stand to gain more than $32 million in education funding through the No Child Left Behind Act and special education programs. The governor and the Legislature would have up to $62 million to prevent cuts in education, public safety and other government services.
For Vermont's Medicaid shortfalls, Vermont would receive an estimated $250 million over two years. And the state would receive nearly $140 million for highways, bridges and transit needs.
All these things should create jobs and ease the pain of this economic crisis. And this spending is needed.
According to the latest available figures from the Vermont Department of Labor, about 22,700 Vermonters were unemployed in December, up from 13,600 one year earlier. Vermont's jobless rate jumped seven-tenths of a percentage point to 6.4 percent in December, the largest one-month increase in more than 18 years.
Few are paying much attention to what the Republicans in Congress have said about this bill. House Minority Leader John Boehner called it "an act of generational theft." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the package "The Europeanization of America."
It seems odd that Boehner and McConnell and the rest of the GOP can say things like that with a straight face. Are they hoping Americans forget about the $800 billion or so that's been spent on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq? Or the $1.7 trillion in tax cuts that mostly went to the richest Americans? Or the $700 billion bailout of the bankers and brokers?
President Obama said it best at his first prime time news conference last week: "What I won't do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed. And that's part of what the election in November was all about."
The Republicans did what opposition parties are supposed to do. They opposed Obama's ideas. You expect that from a party that believes government can do nothing right. Unfortunately, they had no alternative plan and doing nothing is not an option. Americans know this.
According to a poll released on Friday by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Americans say they have been affected by some sort of job problem in the past year -- be it unemployment, underemployment, layoffs, reductions in pay and hours or job losses by members of their households. And 56 percent of Americans expect things to be as bad, if not worse, a year from now.
Many economists share that view. The national unemployment rate, now 7.6 percent, could be as high as 9 percent by the spring of 2010.
Americans want action. That's why Obama was elected president and that's why, despite the naysayers in Washington, he still has strong support. But in the face of the worst economic crisis in decades. the margin for error for the Obama administration in the coming months is razor thin.
Americans will be watching this plan closely to see if it will deliver the millions of new jobs that have been promised.