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Needham residents debate stimulus package

Posted by Kathryn Eident  February 16, 2009 09:44 AM

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Watching a video about the stimulus plan produced by the Obama administration


Harmony Wu leading the discussion

By: Peter Smulowitz
Guest Blogger

On February 10th, about two dozen members of Yes We Can Needham gathered at Sheila and Alan Pransky’s Needham home to discuss the economic crisis and the pending American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Our meeting was one of over 3,000 occurring all across the country this past week, an endeavor requested by the Obama administration’s grassroots extension Organizing for America with the tall order of building momentum for the stimulus package.

Two things struck the group about this request. First, what if we didn’t agree with the elements in the stimulus package? As one of our members Scott Muldoon opined: “We are no rubber stamp.” Second, how exactly does one build momentum for a bill whose fine details are not revealed and whose compromises get worked out behind closed doors in Washington? While the urgency of this stimulus package no doubt limited direct feedback from the rest of us, it seemed as though only the president himself had any idea this package has an impact outside the Beltway. While President Obama was out “campaigning” for the stimulus package in average American communities, Congress was up to business as usual. The inaugural high and bipartisan promises deteriorated into zero Republican votes in the House and three in the Senate propped up precariously by a chance to limit the Alternative Minimum Tax. While We the People want job creation, the stimulus debate turned once again into partisan mudslinging and ideological warfare. None of us in the Yes We Can group are naïve enough to think this election would produce immediate change in Washington. But don’t the politicians realize just how stupid they look? Even the once prospective Commerce Secretary couldn’t put his partisan prejudice aside to vote for the stimulus package.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating just how partisan this became. As a case in point, the Obama administration estimated the stimulus plan would create 3.6 million jobs. House Republicans responded that the bill would produce “only 3.46 million jobs, 500,000 fewer than President Obama promised (L.A. Times February 14th).” Does it really matter if the bill creates 3.6 million jobs or 3.46 million? That’s a lot more than zero jobs. And not to split hairs, but last I checked, 3.46 million is only 140,000 fewer than 3.6 million.

I think everyone present at the Yes We Can meeting all realized that this incessant cycle of partisan bickering will not stop. Rather than be disappointed that President Obama hasn’t turned Washington inside out in three weeks, the debate over the stimulus package is a reminder of how the thinking process in Washington is mired in quicksand, limited by lobbyists and the institutional norms. As one example of this institutionalized thought process, Democratic leaders responded to the charge that the process of developing the stimulus plan needed more transparency by saying that “the bill was handled according to procedures and customs that have been in place for years (L.A. Times, February 14th).”

As the Yes We Can meeting winded down, one main question evolved: “what can we do now?” We in Needham are not likely to be affected by an influx of local funding from the stimulus package, since much of our local funding comes from property taxes rather than the state budget (we are considered a more affluent community), though agencies like the Needham Housing Authority may benefit from infrastructure funding for construction projects. And we will certainly be affected by other infrastructure projects, development of a green economy, revamping of our educational system, reducing the cost of health care, and the myriad other issues taking a position of urgency in the halls of our nation’s Capital.

Bringing this group together is a first step. Now the intent is to build ideas and strategies for influencing the direction of policy. The website is a platform for engaging in discussion on any issue affecting our community. Several of the members decided to run for a seat in town meeting as a way of beginning to influence policies on the local level. We are learning that our state legislators can be accessible through phone calls and office hours they hold in our community. Influencing our Congressman is a bit more difficult because Needham isn’t the central focus of Rep. Lynch’s district. But there are avenues to influencing legislation and policy development. As this group expands in membership and finds its wings, I am hoping it will be a grassroots force to be reckoned with. To join or find out more, please visit To find out more about the specifics of the stimulus plan, visit

To finish, I’d like to just leave some direct thoughts on the meeting provided by another member of the group, Laurie Katz:

“This work by Congress on the stimulus plan is being done rapidly, and people want to understand better what is taking place. People want to trust Obama's plan, but not blindly. It helps to talk to other people about it and gain from each other's insights and expertise. For example, in a brief explanation by Alan Pransky, the group gained some clarity about what the two houses of Congress are (and what they are not) debating as they move forward on this bill.

A lot of information was shared about ways in which Needham residents can be involved locally in initiatives such as affordable housing, public education, and town government, to name a few. The slogan, Think Globally/Act Locally, was alive and well in that Needham living room last night.”

If you’ve got thoughts or comments to share, please leave them here or come join YesWeCanNeedham.

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1 comments so far...
  1. Thanks Peter for your summary and comments! Now that the bill has finally passed, there is a move to try to get our representatives to come and speak with us (the Yes We Can/Organizing for America group [which is always growing/evolving] AND anyone in the community who is interested) about just how the money will be disbursed and affect our state and community.

    Indeed, what we;d like to know is where We The People (as you aptly put it) can put our voices into the mix and actually have an influence on the kinds of spending the stim money will produce (rather than find ourselves in the familiar position of being outraged at misuse/mismanagement 7 months later).

    Anyone who is interested in working on setting up such a meeting with Rep Lida Harkins and Sen. Stephen Lynch can get in touch with me (, and I'll direct you to the group working on this!


    Posted by Harmony Wu February 16, 09 04:27 PM