The age of responsibility has begun

The age of responsibility has begun

“I feel very comfortable with what I’ve done,” Sen. Arlen Specter said about his favorable vote last week for the economic stimulus bill. “This is the biggest vote of my 28 years. When you’re the key to getting $787 billion approved, that’s a lot of responsibility. That’s a career vote. A lot of calls are saying it’s a career-ending vote.”
Sen. Specter is correct that his vote — one of only three Republican ‘yeas’ for the legislation — was decisive and he is correct that it is career-making or career-breaking. Indeed, since President Obama declared that his administration marked the start of a “new era of responsibility,” I say we hold our elected leaders to that standard. Take responsibility for what you’ve just done.
Let’s begin with Sen. Specter. His great coup and the reason, presumably, he voted for the bill was because he personally got the Democrats to include $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health. Now, adding to the NIH budget is a great idea. And the possibility of more than 15,000 new research grants, which is what some of the money will be used for, is laudable. But doesn’t the NIH get its budget approved every year through the standard Congressional appropriation process? Why did the added 34 percent to the NIH budget have to be included in a bill designed to help the American economy recover? Specter never said how many of the 4 million jobs this legislation is supposed to save or create will come from his $10 billion.
OK, never mind the details. Sen. Specter voted for the stimulus and we have him to thank if it does, indeed, help the economy recover. But what if it doesn’t work? What if we are still in a recession a year from now? Or what if the recovery starts before the bill has a chance to take effect? Will Specter still try to take credit for a vote he feels “very comfortable” about?
I propose the following: Sen. Specter should embrace this so-called era of responsibility and commit himself not to run for re-election if “the biggest vote of his 28 years” turns out to be the biggest mistake as well.
He deserves credit for bucking his party if the legislation successfully stimulates the economic recovery and he should accept the blame if it does not. And I am not alone in my skepticism that this mammoth government spending spree is going to work. According to a Rasmussen survey, 52 percent of Pennsylvanians said it was at least somewhat likely that the bill will end up making things worse instead of better. More than half of the folks Sen. Specter represents don’t think it is going to work, so why shouldn’t he pay a price for his decision.
Sen. Casey has responsibilities as well, though as a Democrat his vote was a given. However unlikely, a little acceptance of the blame would be nice. Then again, Sen. Casey isn’t making any promises about when the stimulus might actually take effect. As he explained to Public Radio Capitol News “we are probably going to have hundreds of thousands of jobs lost each of the next several months, at least. The jobs numbers won’t be good in February, March, April, May. I mean, it’s going to be several months. But at some point, we ought to see some change in those numbers. Some diminution in the number of jobs lost in a particular month.”
He voted in favor of spending nearly $1 trillion the government doesn’t have on the calculation that at some point the job numbers will improve. Does Sen. Casey plan to take the credit for a diminution in jobs lost whenever it happens? If the job numbers are better eight months from now, or even two years, is Sen. Casey’s vote the reason?
The economic recovery is going to happen and in time we’ll know whether this unprecedented choice to mortgage our children’s future was worth it. If it proves to be a failure, Sen. Specter should pay with his Senate seat.

(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, can be reached at