The word “stimulus” always makes me giggle. It just sounds dirty to me. But despite the fact that I never left puberty, the stimulus everyone is talking about today is hardly a dirty joke. In fact, it’s probably the nation’s greatest hope for salvaging the economy.

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed President Obama’s economic stimulus package. Supporters and critics alike have deemed it one of the largest social spending programs since the New Deal. Its basic tenets include vast increases in funding for education and Medicaid, more unemployment benefits and the creation of public works projects to secure employment for millions of Americans.

In addition, the stimulus sets aside funding for increased broadband access, alternative energy investment, financial assistance for college students, infrastructure repair and health care for blue-collar workers. It also protects unemployed Americans from losing their health care coverage.

In hopes of appealing to conservatives, Obama pressured Democrats to exclude a measure that would make contraceptives more accessible through Medicaid. Contraceptives help many families stay afloat and serve as a crucial element of family planning. Failing to aid families with this is an unfortunate means of compromise.

Nevertheless, close-mindedness has compelled conservatives to ignore the Democrats’ concessions. Many believe the package should focus on things they view to be more pertinent to the economy. What they fail to recognize is that investing in the aforementioned programs is investing in the economy.

Providing American schools with the resources to better educate American students will lead to a more intellectual workforce. Maintaining affordable health care will inevitably result in more people staying healthy and working more efficiently. Focusing on alternative energy will probably help save domestic industry and simultaneously rescue the environment in which all of us work and live. And similar realities are to be found for each individual part of the stimulus.

“Well, fine,” Republicans might say, “lots of fancy new programs — but there aren’t enough tax breaks for ‘real Americans.’ ” In fact, a third of the stimulus package goes back to taxpayers in need in the form of tax breaks. But it’s important to note that in spite of what conservatives might say, tax cuts alone are simply not the answer.

The purpose of a tax cut is to encourage taxpayers to spend more at businesses affected by the failing economy. But at a time when credit is at a virtual standstill and people are increasingly nervous about spending what little they have, money unspent in taxes would likely be saved rather than reinvested into struggling businesses. That means major cuts in taxes at this point in time would decrease government revenue while doing nothing to help moribund businesses, in effect making things worse.

To illustrate this point Congress enacted a more conservative approach last year to an economic stimulus program by passing a $168 billion tax cuts and rebates package. That was in February 2008. Are we more economically sound in February 2009, or were Americans once again duped by the myopic social philosophy of the far right?

To be fair, when discussing public policy and especially economic policies, it’s important to look carefully at both sides. When members of both parties have dissenting opinions in Congress, representative democracy is playing its ‘A’-game and coming closer to a holistic middle ground. But when those opinions yield only bitter argument — and no results — then the process is entirely undermined.

The House did manage to pass Obama’s stimulus plan, so any further discussion might seem like a non-issue. But it passed without a single Republican vote, and the stubbornness exhibited by House Republicans scares me. It’s a powerful pigheadedness and it must not continue into the future. There are too many important bills to pass for partisanship to get in the way of professionalism.

Regardless of whether or not everyone on Capitol Hill agrees with the current terms of the stimulus package, policy gridlock will get the U.S. nowhere. That much is clear. If liberals are willing to come to the table ready to bargain, Republicans ought to do the same.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu.

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