Like many states, Pennsylvania has been locked in a long budget battle, after the tanked economy opened up huge, huge holes in budgets. In Pennsylvania, GOP State Senators have used the huge budget gap to try to kill program after program. They want massive cuts in everything from education to social services to parks to nursing homes beds for veterans to legal services for the poor. Each program (and many, many more) are on the PA Senate chopping block. Basically, if the Senate gets its way, civil society in Pennsylvania fundamentally changes, for the worse.
And although we rightfully focus on PA Senate Republicans, especially Majority Leader Dominic Pillegi, for their current stance, the Joe Sestak campaign has reminded us of one guy who really has not gotten enough ‘credit’ for the huge gap in Pennsylvania’s budget: Arlen Specter. In fact, Arlen Specter is largely responsible for the entire gap between Ed Rendell’s original budget proposal and the infamous Senate Bill 850. How? With his ‘courage’ in the battle over President Obama's Recovery Act.
Back in May, the Pa. Senate Republicans released Senate Bill 850 (SB 850), which slashed every program imaginable to the bone or simply totally killed its funding. The difference between the Senate and Rendell’s budget was about 1.7 billion dollars. In effect, the Senate GOP was using the crisis as a chance to make an ideological stand to gut and gut and gut our civil society. But, guess what? That huge gap would barely have existed at all, except for the work of a couple ‘moderate’ Senators, led by our own Arlen Specter.
Nationally, most economists knew at the time of the stimulus that the original package proposed by the Democratic House was a good bill, but probably not big enough given how fast our economy was shrinking. And then, as we are all familiar with, in a battle that echoes the global warming and health care fights, the Senate took the package and made it much worse. In the interest of ‘compromise,’ an Arlen Specter led group of Senators slashed 100 billion from the package, and shifted a lot of the funding towards tax cuts. Specter in fact lamented that we couldn’t have slashed all spending from the Recovery Act:
The agreement we reached was the best one we could under the circumstances. We were able to cut out $100 billion from the package and include 35% in tax relief in the overall bill. My preference would have been John McCain’s proposal, which I voted for, to have the stimulus package of $421 billion in tax cuts alone. I voted for the Reagan tax cuts back in 1981 and that would be the best course, but in a legislative body you don’t have exactly your own choice.
So, Specter didn’t get all of the cuts he wanted, but he was sure happy he was ‘able to cut 100 billion from the package.’ And what was one of the cuts he was successful in getting? 40 billion dollars for the state stabilization fund. In other words, 40 billion dollars in direct payment from the Federal Government to the states to help them with their huge budget problems.
According to Pa’s share of the national population, Arlen Specter’s Recovery Act cuts cost Pennsylvania about 1.6 billion dollars, or almost the entire gap between Rendell’s original budget proposal, and SB 850. Since then, the budget gap has grown. But even now, it would be halved if Arlen Specter didn’t slash the Recovery Act.
And, of course, Pennsylvania's is a story that could be repeated in California, and in every state in between...
So the next time Specter brags about his vote on the Recovery Act- like he did at Netroots Nation- just remember what he was bragging about a couple months before he switched parties, and how that potentially could endanger Pennsylvania civil society as we know it.