The opposition should oppose mere opportunism, which comes in two forms. One is presenting pet projects hitherto considered unworthy of funding, as suddenly meritorious because somehow stimulative. The other attaches major and nongermane policy changes to the stimulus legislation, counting on the need for speed to allow them to escape appropriate scrutiny. For example:
The stimulus legislation would create a council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. This is about medicine but not about healing the economy. The CER would identify (this is language from the draft report on the legislation) medical "items, procedures, and interventions" that it deems insufficiently effective or excessively expensive. They "will no longer be prescribed" by federal health programs. The next secretary of health and human services, Tom Daschle, has advocated a "Federal Health Board" similar to the CER, whose recommendations "would have teeth": Congress could restrict the tax exclusion for private health insurance to "insurance that complies with the Board's recommendation." The CER, which would dramatically advance government control -- and rationing -- of health care, should be thoroughly debated, not stealthily created in the name of "stimulus."
The opposition's third duty is to assert inconvenient truths, one of which is that the truth shall make you modest. There never is a moment when an open society that wants to remain such does not need the wisdom of Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who said: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design." So the deference accorded this president should be proportional to his willingness to acknowledge that neither he nor anyone else can know whether the stimulus will work.
And from the quantity of deference owed to him, Republicans should subtract the sum of the opportunism of congressional Democrats. If Republicans conclude that the truly stimulative portion of the legislation is less than half the size of the portion composed of banal and brazen opportunism, and irrelevant but consequential policies surreptitiously pursued, they should oppose it.
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