The Obama stimulus: Bigger and better than ever

First $500 billion. Now $850 billion. Do we hear a trillion? Forget about everything else: The economic recovery plan is the only thing that matters

Published December 18, 2008 7:25PM (EST)

In Bonita, Florida, the city council is fast-tracking a road-improvement program while crossing its fingers and hoping that the Obama stimulus plan will pick up the bill. In Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, local leaders have already prepared a $98 million "wish list" for a slew of environmental cleanup projects. In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick announced the state has $4.7 billion worth of projects ready to go, including, for example, "$18 million in library renovations at UMass Dartmouth."

No wonder the Obama economic team has been spreading the word that they will push for a bigger stimulus package than previously discussed. Just a few weeks ago, they were talking about a $500 billion "economic recovery" plan. But now, reports Bloomberg, the number up to $850 billion. Judging by the number of applicants already lining up with their hands out, that money will go fast.

Which is probably a good thing, considering the state of the economy. And wouldn't it be nice to spend $850 billion actually building things, instead of buying stock in Wall Street banks?

All eyes should be on the stimulus package. In recent days, the political commentariat has been obsessed with parsing every possible detail about the latest Obama cabinet picks -- is Tom Vilsack too Monsanto-flavored? What could possibly be the motivation for Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary? Will Hilda Solis at Labor satisfy a suspicious left? But all that kremlinology is a distraction from a truly astonishing story. In just a few weeks, a new Congress will be in session, and the incoming Obama administration plans to have a shopping list the likes we haven't seen in several generations ready and waiting for the Senate and House to sign off on.

If you think the squabbling over the auto bailout has been messy, then maybe you better buckle up. Because the very first order of business for Obama is going to be a massive showdown over his spending plan. And for now, nothing else matters.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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