How to spend $550 billion

Government with a capital "G": House Democrats release a draft proposal for the economic recovery plan.

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 15, 2009 7:06PM (EST)

Finally: The House Appropriations Committee provides a first draft of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan:

Even though the House has sliced the proportion devoted to tax cuts and pumped up the plan's total cost to $825 billion, critics from the left (paging Paul Krugman!) will no doubt demand an even higher price tag. But at first glance, the spending priorities outlined by the Appropriations Committee should be enough to make any unrepentant liberal giddy with glee. This is Government with a capital G.

  • $32 billion to transform the nation's energy transmission, distribution, and production systems by allowing for a smarter and better grid and focusing investment in renewable technology.
  • $16 billion to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits.
  • $6 billion to weatherize modest-income homes.
  • $10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation.
  • $6 billion to expand broadband Internet access so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can link up to the global economy.
  • $30 billion for highway construction;
  • $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long term energy cost savings;
  • $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments;
  • $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption.
  • $41 billion to local school districts through Title I ($13 billion), IDEA ($13 billion), a new School Modernization and Repair Program ($14 billion), and the Education Technology program ($1 billion).
  • $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks to key services, including $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities distributed through existing state and federal formulas, $15 billion to states as bonus grants as a reward for meeting key performance measures, and $25 billion to states for other high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education.
  • $15.6 billion to increase the Pell grant by $500.
  • $6 billion for higher education modernization.
  • $20 billion for health information technology to prevent medical mistakes, provide better care to patients and introduce cost-saving efficiencies.
  • $4.1 billion to provide for preventative care and to evaluate the most effective healthcare treatments.
  • $43 billion for increased unemployment benefits and job training.
  • $39 billion to support those who lose their jobs by helping them to pay the cost of keeping their employer provided healthcare under COBRA and providing short-term options to be covered by Medicaid.
  • $20 billion to increase the food stamp benefit by over 13 percent in order to help defray rising food costs.
  • $87 billion for a temporary increase in the Medicaid matching rate.
  • $4 billion for state and local law enforcement funding

This plan won't stop global warming, won't double the production of alternative energy in three years, and won't address global trade imbalances or remake the global economic order. But it will provide a jolt to the U.S. economy unlike any delivered by the U.S. government in decades. Provided, of course, the ultimate plan looks anything like what is outlined above, once it gets past the Blue Dog moderate and conservative Democrats in the House, and the Republicans in the Senate.

Does anything in particular outrage you or strike your fancy? Let me know. Personally, I'm attracted by the commitment to pay part of the cost of healthcare under COBRA for employees who lose their jobs. A previous president may have told Americans that we have nothing to fear except fear itself. Today, I think a lot of us would add a modifier: "and the cost of healthcare when one is unemployed."

Andrew Leonard

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

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