big sky, country

Who would have thought that in a democracy based on geographic representation, elected officials would have the effrontery to announce that their policies would help their constituents? But it’s happening. Despite all the talk about not having earmarks in the stimulus, despite all the talk of a new tone in Washington, people who voted for the stimulus bill are now announcing that it’s a good bill that will help people in their home districts.

Take the example of Max Baucus from this recent report (links in the original):

Other remarks describe projects that really don’t count as earmarks, but in a new, bacon-barded tone. “Senate Passes Jobs Bill that Will Pump Money into Montana,” reads the title of a statement from the office of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. (Compare that to “Senator’s Plan to Create Jobs, Cut Taxes Advances,” only a couple weeks earlier.) But the Montana money he mentions is distributed by formula through programs that will be available to all states.

These remarks contrast with the earlier tone most Democrats adopted to build support and stanch a political bleed that accelerated in proportion to the bill’s rising price tag. Stock press releases like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) described a bill with “unprecedented levels of accountability” that “will create American jobs now” but declined to go into local details.

Yes, let’s compare those two Baucus press releases. (Hoyer will have to wait.)

The most recent is dated February 10, 2009 and has the headline and subheadline:


Baucus, Tester Praise Bill That Will Create Good-paying Jobs, Cut Taxes, Boost Economy

The earlier press release is dated January 27, 2009 and has the headline and subheadline:


Senator’s Plan To Create Jobs, Cut Taxes Advances

Notice anything odd about this? For one thing, the reporter has compared the headline of the first release with the subheadline of the second. I don’t see why he couldn’t make the same comparison headline to headline.

But that’s a minor problem compared with the dates. The premise of the whole article is that:

And as the [stimulus] bill cleared its final legislative hurdles Friday, so did some congressional Democrats who tallied their handiwork in dispatches to constituents. [Note: what’s going on with the parallel structure here?] Members switched from guarded rhetoric about a pork-free package to messages plugged with lardoons to highlight local projects, industry boons and in some cases, specific programs squeezed into the bill by individual lawmakers.

Ok, but that Friday was the 13th. The most recent Baucus press release is dated on the 10th, after the Senate passed its version of the bill but before the conference report was agreed to. If Baucus changed his tone between one release and the other, it didn’t come as a result of that Friday’s events. I suppose this could be waved off as another minor problem with the article: once the bill got through the Senate, there wasn’t much doubt that a conference report would be approved eventually and that the bill would be signed into law. Still, the 10th is not the 13th.

But, leaving the date discrepancy aside, did Baucus change his tone from one release to another? Did he start promoting provisions in the stimulus that would benefit Montana which he had refrained from mentioning before? Did Baucus adopt a “new bacon-barded tone”?

See for yourself. Here are excerpts from the January 27th press release (highlights added):

(Washington D.C.) – Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus’ plan to get Montana’s and America’s economy moving again passed the Senate Finance Committee today.

Baucus’ measures- part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009- include $455 billion in tax cuts and investments that will help create good paying jobs in Montana. Baucus’ legislation will boost investment in industries important to Big Sky Country including alternative energy, timber, water development, health care technology and rural highways. Baucus’ measures will provide relief for Montana’s working families and businesses….

In addition to $275 billion in job creation and industry investment measures, Baucus’ plan contains approximately $180 billion to help Montanans and Americans who have lost their jobs to keep their health care coverage and find new good-paying jobs….

The release then lists various items included in Baucus’ Finance Committee plan, of which three name Montana specifcially. This is followed by a discussion of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposal, then still under consideration, that would

also include measures to boost Montana’s economy and create good paying jobs in Big Sky Country. The Senate Appropriations committee plan is expected to be merged with Baucus’ package.

While there are no specific projects or “earmarks’ named in the appropriations plan, many projects and industries in Montana will benefit from funding used to…

An itemized list follows. Finally,

In addition to Baucus’ position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Montana U.S. Senator Jon Tester has recently been appointed the Senate Appropriations Committee. In these positions, Baucus and Tester are working together to ensure the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is right for Montana.

That’s some pretty unguarded rhetoric about local projects.

There are no equivalent bullet-pointed lists in the February 10th press release, which sticks to more general statements about what Montana stands to gain (but it does promise that more specifics will be released later):

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The U.S. Senate today passed its version of the Jobs Bill, which will help create good-paying jobs, cut taxes and boost Montana’s economy.

The senators said the Jobs Bill, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will create or save jobs in Montana and across the country and will provide tax cuts for working families.  The Jobs Bill will also invest in long-term projects like rebuilding Montana’s highways, water systems, schools, energy facilities and health care facilities.

“The best way to get our economy back on track is by creating and keeping good-paying jobs and cutting taxes for hard-working folks. That’s what this bill does,” said Baucus. “This bill is not a bailout. Jon and I worked hard to make sure this bill is right for Montana and for the country.

So the answer to the question of whether Baucus changed his tone seems to be “no.”

But there’s more. The article contrasts Baucus’ remarks the headline of Baucus’ February 10th press release with (link in original)

Stock press releases like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD)


described a bill with “unprecedented levels of accountability” that “will create American jobs now” but declined to go into local details.”

Information can change on the internet, so maybe the reporter saw something else at that URL, but when I click through to the “stock” press release I find a release dated January 28th, 2009, with the headline (which is not quoted in the article):

Hoyer: Maryland Economy and Workers Need American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan

and reading along I learn such details as (link and bolding in original; highlights added):

“Our economy is failing: 2.6 million jobs lost last year; the worst housing market since the Great Depression; financial turmoil that has threatened the savings and retirements of millions,” stated Hoyer. Marylanders have felt the impact of this economic downturn in lost jobs, lost wealth, the creation of a deep hole in the State’s budget, and an unemployment rate that has climbed to 5.8 percent, the highest level in 15 years. Today, the House has taken the first step in delivering a plan to implement the President’s vision to get the economy back on track and put people in our state and our country back to work.”

I also learn that:

According to leading independent economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s, the plan will create an estimated 99,200 jobs in the State of Maryland by the end of 2010 and reduce the unemployment rate by 2 percent. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains targeted efforts in:
  • Transforming Our Economy With Clean, Efficient, American Energy and Innovation and Technology that will create more than 1 million jobs;
  • Lowering Health Care Costs by funding aggressive adoption of health information technology, which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and Broadening Coverage by helping those who cannot afford health care in these tough times;
  • Modernizing Roads, Bridges, Transit and Waterways to create 1.5 million American jobs and provide more than $782 million in infrastructure funding for Maryland;
  • Education for the 21st Century, including an increased Pell Grant for 89,238 students here in Maryland, a higher education tax credit for an additional 53,000 students in our state so that they can stay in college despite these tough times and funding for school construction and teacher retention; Estimates for Maryland school districts can be found here.
  • Tax Cuts of up to $1,000 to Make Work Pay for two million families here in Maryland and more than $20 billion for American businesses, large and small, to spur job creation;
  • Helping Families Hurt by the Economy, including unemployment insurance for 174,700 of Marylanders who are out of work, those who have lost their health care, seniors and those in need of food stamps and assistance with home heating costs; and
  • Saving the Jobs of Teachers, Police Officers, and Firefighters.

On second thought, maybe that’s not the best example of a stock press release lacking in local detail.

So what’s the story here? The article uses Baucus as an example of how the Democrats’ tone has supposedly shifted since the passage of the stimulus bill on Friday the 13th, but the press releases it cites as evidence are both dated before the 13th. And the tone seems pretty consistent from one to the other. Both discuss the stimulus in terms of the benefits it will bring locally to Montana and generally to the nation as a whole.

The article points out that the provisions Baucus’ later press release highlights as aiding Montana are not, in fact, earmarks, but manages to insinuate that there’s something untoward about this – but isn’t it supposed to be good that they aren’t earmarks? – apparently because Baucus’ office thinks it’s a good idea to highlight policies that help the state he represents. See, members of Congress used to brag about earmarks they brought in for their districts, so if a member of Congress talks about something that helps their district, it must be just like an earmark, even when it clearly isn’t, but the fact that it isn’t an earmark and the member is still promoting it means that it must be just like an earmark. Or maybe the member is trying to make constituents think it’s an earmark. Or something. I’m not sure I follow the logic there, if there is any; besides, Baucus’ earlier press release acknowledges and states outright that there aren’t any earmarks for Montana in the bill, so it’s not like this has been kept a secret. Montana stands to gain from provisions in the bill that help programs that happen to operate in that state (as well as in others) – is that something to hide?

Finally, Baucus’ later press release – more specifically, its title – is contrasted with some general remarks quoted from one of Steny Hoyer’s press releases which purportedly demonstrate that before the stimulus passed, Democrats refrained from going into “local details” when talking about the bill. But the press release quoted as evidence names Maryland in the headline – just as the later Baucus press release with which it’s being contrasted names Montana in its headline – and the release talks at length about what the bill will do for Maryland, even going so far as to link to a document giving estimates on how the then-current draft of the stimulus would affect individual school districts.

It’s almost enough to make you think that there isn’t much of a story here at all.