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By Jay Cost

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Follow Up To Yesterday's Post

Over at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen raises a fair objection to my post from yesterday. He notes that amendments to the stimulus bills in both chambers that would have replaced the bill with tax cuts received broad support from the Republican caucus - and argues that this is pushback to the following point I made:

Who's arguing that "tax cuts alone" will solve this problem? Even if some are, is this the median position on the Republican side? Is this the position of the more moderate members of the GOP Senate caucus like Lugar, Voinovich, and Murkowski? How about moderate House Republicans like Kirk, LoBiondo, and Castle? We might count it as bipartisanship if Obama had picked up a few of them, but he didn't.

Benen's criticism has merit. I should have been more careful in my word choice, particularly in the use of the phrase "median position." That suggests the ideal policy outcome preferred above all others by the median Republican legislator. I think the President mischaracterized the median Republican's preference in several instances during the course of his presser - but that might not be the case here, as evidenced by the roll call Benen cites.

A handful of votes is thin gruel when trying to identify legislators' ideal points, which is what Benen attempts in his response. After all, on any given roll call vote legislators with preferences on a continuum of alternatives must make a binary choice (yes or no) between just two options (the status quo and the alternative in question). This makes it difficult to estimate what legislators ideally prefer. So, the roll call vote Benen cites might indicate that the ideal position of the median Republican legislator is indeed "tax cutes alone." But maybe not. All it means is that legislators preferred the bill as amended to the unamended version. And even this assumes that these legislators were not voting strategically, e.g. they were not posturing to say that they supported an alternative knowing full well it would fail.

Allow me to rephrase my objection by returning to the President's opening remarks. I think that what he tries to do is box the opposition into oversimplified categories that he then dismisses. He outlines three options: "government alone," "tax cuts alone," and his middle-of-the-road alternative as the manifestly superior course of action. However, that's not the full set of options. In fact, there could be many proposals that, like his, fall between the poles. Even if we do not know what the median Republican legislator ideally prefers, it is quite likely that many Republicans (Lugar, Kirk, etc.) could have been brought aboard some other compromise in the middle.

A good example is what happened in the Senate on debate over this bill. The Democrats picked up a few Republicans by small alternations to the House bill. What's to say more alterations could not have picked up even more? Another good example is last year's stimulus bill, which offered rebates to taxpayers, as well as $300 to "[p]eople who paid no income taxes but earned at least $3,000 -- including through Social Security or veterans' disability benefits." That bill received broad support from both parties. So, even in "the last eight years," Republicans have supported more than "tax cuts alone" to address economic problems.

-Jay Cost