Over at Daily Kos, Jed L argues that because the stimulus is large, that we have entered an era of progressive governance:
My point, of course, is that when the question is whether or not a nearly $800 billion stimulus is large enough, the outlook is pretty good for progressive governance.
Even some conservatives understand what is happening here... there is a shift underway. And you need look no further than the debate over whether $775 billion is a large enough stimulus to understand just how big that shift will be.
First, I need to point out that the stimulus isn't actually going to be $675-800 billion in new spending. Between one-quarter and one-third of the stimulus is actually a series of tax cuts (emphasis mine):
Talks over the stimulus plan, which could cost $675 billion to $850 billion, heated up over the past week as an unofficial outline emerged of what the bill would fund. About $200 billion would probably go toward middle-class tax cuts and tax credits for tuition and small businesses, while another $200 billion is under consideration to help mitigate the soaring costs of Medicaid and education. Up to $350 billion, or more, could go toward investments covering infrastructure, tax credits for renewable energy, increased funding for food stamps and the creation of an extensive technological health database.
Second, while the idea that spending increases necessarily result in more progressive governance is certainly floating around, it is a dangerous one for we Democrats and progressives to buy into. Lest we turn into a conservative parody of progressives and liberals, we need to remember that federal spending is not, in and of itself, progressive. Consider, for example, that federal spending increased more than 50% under George W. Bush, even before the Wall Street bailout. In fact, non-defense, discretionary federal spending accounted for more than half of that increase, and once again that was even before the Wall Street bailout. This massive spending increase did not yield more progressive governance, because to whom the government distributes money matters just as much as the amount of money it distributes.
I agree with Jed that we are in a moment when more progressive governance is possible, and not just because of Democratic control of the federal government. Left-wing economic ideas are more popular now than they have been in decades. Further, I also think that the bailout seems to be a positive step for the country, and its current outlines seem pretty good. However, before we proclaim a new era of progressive governance, quite a bit needs to happen. This includes, off the top of my head:
Make stimulus spending of this size permanent, in order to create an economy without bubbles. The one-time vs. long-term increased spending debate will be a major ideological divide in the coming years, and will be played out within both the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.
Labor shift toward the public sector: Lawrence Summers doesn't seem to be arguing for one in a recent op-ed. When describing the job creation goals of the stimulus, he envisions no shift toward public sector employment:
Second, more than 80 percent of these 3 million jobs will be in the private sector, including emerging sectors such as environmental technology.
If Summers is right, then the stimulus won't actually be shifting the labor market toward the public sector at all. In other words, there is no WPA, TVA or CCC yet. There may yet be such programs, but the fight to create them has not even begun.
Provide revenue sources for the two points above: The real test of the political willingness of the Democratic trifecta to institute a long-term, progressive shift in governance will be the creation of new governmental revenue streams that can pay for both long-term spending increases and an enhanced public sector jobs market. This will require doing more than just rolling back the Bush tax cuts, and will require taxation beyond that instituted under the Clinton administration.
In summary, just because the stimulus has a big dollar sign next to it does not usher in an era of progressive governance. There is still a lot of fights to be won--heck, there are still a lot of fights to be engaged. The stimulus is a decent start, but right now we still only have the possibility for an era of progressive governance, not yet the reality.