If I had to bet on why Obama's stimulus proposals are being constructed the way they are, I'd bet on the optimistic side with Nate Silver: Obama is staking out centrist territory on stimulus matters because "he wants the Senate Democrats to do his dirty work for him. All of the sudden, the administration, which is about to spend at least $800 billion, gets to play the role of the fiscally prudent tightwads, negotiating against the Senate Democrats." Certainly, that's how you get to a smart and effective stimulus package via a clever media strategy. (In other news, I don't really see how the 'Price Is Right' analogy from Nate's post applies.)
Of course, all of this is really speculative at this point. We'll know what's going on after it actually happens. How exactly the mix of people surrounding Obama turns into policy remains to be seen.
Neil, the point of the analogy is that you it's strategically better to start low rather than to start high. You lose if you go over the actual price on Price is Right. If Obama starts at over, at say 1.3 trillion, it freaks everyone out and makes it easier for Republicans to stonewall. By low-balling it, everyone says, why only 800 billion? WHY ONLY 800 BILLION. So it's better to guess low, since it doesn't throw the whole thing out of track, and you can still keep bidding it up.
I don't know why this is even a topic of debate really, Hell, as everyone has pointed out, Obama has already basically said that's the plan.
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Yeah, I get that, but the part of the analogy that breaks down is the immediate disaster when you go a little too high. If you bid $1 too high in The Price Is Right, you lose. But if you bid $900 billion and the GOP says, no, $800 billion, and starts filibustering, they look like obstructionists who are quibbling while Rome burns.
I get that being $400B low is better than being $400B high, but that doesn't seem to justify the analogy.
But if you have to fight the Republicans right off the bat, you might hold them off, but you might be stuck at 900 billion. By starting low enough that there is no space for them to object, the number has a better chance of climbing even higher than 900 billion.
Anyways, I think the analogy is being used in only the loosest sense, so one probably shouldn't spend to much time worrying about it.
Okay, fair enough about the analogy.
But a point of psychology -- Republicans could play that game with any amount you name. Obama could come out with $90 billion in stimulus and the GOP would say, "objection! $80 billion" and freeze you from going north. Nobody except Krugman has any idea what these numbers mean anyway.
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