Governor Bobby Jindal, 2012 contender and current governor of Louisiana, argued on Meet the Press this past Sunday that he opposed the stimulus bill and would refuse some to accept some of it’s monies for his state despite it’s looming budget deficit. He gave a few reasons – echoing the established conventional wisdom that Obama should have taken it upon himself to craft the stimulus bill instead of allowing Congress to play it’s part as a coequal branch of government and stating that there was too much spending that Democrats wanted in the bill. This, of course, is a standard politician’s trick, used by Democrats such as Obama as well as Republicans such as Jindal – be outraged at the “the very chaotic, decentralised and often irrational mess” that is American politics while at the same time demonstrating a healthy respect for the distinct advantages of this politics, with the knowledge that, “What keeps America behind is also what keeps pushing it relentlessly, fitfully forward.” In other words – Jindal is railing against the system itself as a political weapon while only taking positions that would keep the system intact. His opposition then clearly has a political component – rather than being a matter of pure principle. There’s nothing wrong with this – but it’s important to acknowledge.
Jindal gave another reason for rejecting federal stimulus money – because:
You’re talking about temporary federal money that would require a permanent change in state law.
He continued, using a rather sneaky phrasing to make his point:
[T]he federal law, if you actually read the bill–and I know it was 1,000 pages, and I know they got it, you know, at midnight, or hours before they voted on it – if you actually read the bill, there’s one problem with that. The word permanent is in the bill. [my emphasis]
Hearing especially that last phrase, with it’s seeming definitiveness yet clear allowance for the opportunity to weasel out of what it seems to be saying, I was rather convinced that only a politician trying to exaggerate a point would use the phrase. Regardless of whether the policy was positive or not, it would have been nice to
Yet, upon reading the bill, I found that Jindal was right – the law did require unemployment benefits be calculated in a particular way – and that the state law establishing this be permanent rather than temporary. At the same time, the bill offers what seems to be an escape clause – in which the Secretary of Labor is allowed to judge whether states have met the criteria set forth in the law.
If Jindal’s objection were merely that he did not want to change the state law permanently in order to receive the monies, he could just apply for the funds and see what happened. There are enough ambiguities in the text that a clever lawyer could probably find a loophole allowing the monies to be given to Louisiana. More important, this would provide better political ground for Governor Jindal to make the case against this provision – he would have clearly focused the political debate on whether it was right for the stimulus bill to impose permanent changes. I personally think it unlikely that the Secretary of Labor would provoke such a conflict – which is probably why Jindal is making his case this way.
He chose to reject the funds because he wanted a soapbox issue to helped cement his national opposition to the plan.
Jackie Calmes and Robert Pear wrote in the New York Times last week that Jindal was joined by a number of other Republican governors in vocal opposition to the plan:
The harshest critics include Mr. Sanford and Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the national chairman of the party in the 1990s, Rick Perry of Texas, and Sarah Palin of Alaska, the party’s 2008 vice-presidential nominee.
Interestingly, all seem to have national ambitions – and designs for 2012.
The point I’m trying to make is one I’ve made before – the Republican opposition to the stimulus is clearly a matter of politics rather than principle.