12:38 pm Oct. 5, 2011
Yesterday, the House passed a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through November 18 by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 352 to 66. The deal had already been negotiated in the Senate, and most of the nays in the House (53 of the 66) were right-leaning Republicans unsatisfied that the bill didn't cut more government spending.
The only New Yorker to vote against the resolution was decidedly not in that group.
"I don’t think we ought to be cutting budgets right now," Representative Jerrold Nadler told me in a phone interview this morning. "It’s just another step in the wrong direction."
Nadler, a liberal Democrat whose district stretches across Manhattan and into Brooklyn, said that even when the idea is to keep budgets flat from one year to the next, there are increases for inflation and cost-of-living, adjustments that weren't accounted for in the continuing resolution, which sets discretionary spending below last year's budget.
"In this economy, we need more spending, to prime the pump, to have more people working," he said. "You cannot cut your way out of this kind of crisis."
The spending levels in the C.R. had been agreed to earlier in the year, as a concession to Republicans during the debt-ceiling debate.
I asked whether the agreement was a sign that the brinksmanship that attended budget debates earlier in the year, when House Republicans bargained for ever more cuts by holding up routine spending measures and threatening a government shutdown, was receding.
"What the Republicans have done this year, is they’ve changed the rules of the game," said Nadler, who called the tactics "undemocratic."
("And I hope I can say that in the past tense," he added.)
Nadler's unabashed defense of federal spending makes him, at the moment, something of an outlier, even within his party. The congressman said he was "a little surprised" only 13 Democrats voted against the continuing resolution.
"There’s a lot of pressure," he explained. "The political zeitgesit is all cut, cut, cut. If you go to colleges and talk to economics professors, you’ll hear what I’m saying a lot more than if you turn on the radio and the political talk shows."
And President Obama, he said, hasn't exactly been immune to the zeitgeist.
"It’s very hard when even the leader of your own party is talking about cuts," Nadler said.
In recent weeks, the president has been talking more about the virtues of federal spending, as he pushes his $455 billion dollar American Jobs Act. But, that could prove a difficult sell, after months of allowing Republicans to frame the stimulus bill as an unnecessary government expense that did little to create jobs.
Nadler noted that House Speaker John Boehner now casually refers to the "job-killing stimulus bill."
And part of the fight for future, Nadler said, is dispelling that notion of the past.
"The truth is that the stimulus bill was too small ... I think the president has got to, even retroactively, start saying the stimulus bill worked," Nadler said.