Line by Line

Monday, March 09, 2009

Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation and staff writer for The New Yorker, speaks about his project to actually read the stimulus bill from start to finish. Occasionally, he will join the show to report on what he's discovered. Help Steve Coll Out! Take a look at the PDF of the bill below, and read the section on "Energy and Water" (starts on page 92). Post your findings below and Steve will take a look as he gets to the section.


Steve Coll

Comments [16]

Phil Henshaw from NYC

Maybe people are at a point with these large scale financial issues to understand some of the elemental questions the natural scientists of systems have been struggling with all along. The basic motive of the stimulus plan is to *restore* the promises of the economy that were too good to be true, not really to correct them... Yea, that’s right

That very odd circumstance is inherited from thousands of years ago, it seems reasonable to say, as the basic purpose of economic regulation. It’s to stabilize what the people with money wanted and turns out to be to have a guaranteed steady positive rate of return on their financial bets, and then to add their winnings to their bets. It's just that elementally simple, the central purpose financial regulation is a promise too good to be true. It seems that is why we have endless repeated grand financial collapses and don’t learn from the experience. Our basic purpose in regulation is in deep conflict with reality, trying to guarantee promises too good to be true...!

The simple test to see how it works is to use it as a model for, say, a plan to walk down the street. Try walking by steps that are much too small to get you much of anywhere at first, so you get impatient, and then change to having each step twice as big as the one before. Let me know what happens if you devote all your concentration to continuing to double the size of each step.. ;-)

Mar. 26 2009 09:46 AM
George Taylor from Brooklyn, NY


Mr. Lehrer:
(Digression: I was waiting to participate in the Geitner Plan Discussion when the House hearings began. Secretary Geitner was making a statement. Unexpectedly, Chairman Barney Franks interrupted the him with what sounded like a rebuke to the Secretary: "Act you age . . .".
As Frank's rebuke continued it was clear that his comments were directed at some "signage" being displayed off-camera, at the back of the hearing room (have the "Pink Ladies" of last week's hearing returned?) For a nano-second I thought that Chairman Franks had somehow decided to get off the establishment Washington gravey train, drop the false guise of understanding sophistry, and speak on behalf of ordinary citizens. Who would these mythical creatures deserve to be?)

The comment I thought I was going to make was that the plan announced by Secretary Geitner yesterday, 3-23-09, (The "Private Party-Government Partnership [20%/80%] to Buy Toxic Assets For the Purpose of Selling them at a Profit Later" a.k.a. "The Legacy Asset Plan"(?)] was that the arrangement, as described, appeared to me to be something akin to a single business event made up of the salient aspects of a "sub-prime loan" (i,e,. a leveraged purchase of property) and a "credit default swap" (i.e. a guarantee that the purchaser will not suffer any financial loss when the property is sold).
[Quite frankly I have a sensation of dealing in subjects I do not fully understand at all.]
"Risk", "Guarantee", "Bonus"; the ordinary meaning of these words I thought I knew; but as congressional hearings and radio show discussions using these terms unfold, I realize how ignorant I am. E.g., "bonus" re: AIG-FP recipients; ?I know how much it is, I have never heard mentioned how much salary was already being paid. Have you?
Can we get the "This American Life" characters to conduct daily explanations of these cosmic concepts?

George Taylor
Brooklyn, NY

Mar. 24 2009 11:59 AM
Steven Weiss from Princeton, NJ

From what I've read, the only proven non-fossil fuel energy source that can provide a significant portion of our power needs in the near future with technology available now is nuclear energy. The technology is much improved from what was available in the recent past and has been used very successfully in several European countries and Canada to provide a large portion of their power needs. I see nothing in this bill about increasing funding for building nuclear power plants. This is irresponsible, since it is imperative for several reasons that we wean ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil.

Mar. 15 2009 10:24 PM
Ben from Seattle

The sad part of HR 1 is in Pages 101-102 - Fossil Energy (Coal) gets $2,400,000,000 to "demonstrate" the injection of more than 1 million tons of CO2 from industrial sources annually under Title VII of the Energy Independence and Security Act. This barely scratches the surface. The "Fossil Energy" industry, despite years of lip service and public relations campaigns, has not built one single working model demonstrating capture and sequestration, let alone fitted a single plant with the technology. Not a single one. I don't see a requirement in here that they do anything but continue to study it.

Coal accounts for half of the electricity use in the U.S. Total world consumption is projected to increase by 57 percent from 2004 to 2030. There needs to be a requirement for action, the industry is actually getting another pass here.

Mar. 12 2009 01:43 PM
Sascha M. from Hell's Kitchen

I don't really want to entertain this off-topic conversation between Betty Ann and Kathleen here, but I have to say to Kathleen that Betty Ann was just making a factual observation.
The spending bills for the Iraq war were entirely financed outside the regular budget, i.e. by selling Treasury bills to China and Japan, for which we'll pay massive amounts of interest for years to come. Furthermore, these were made in a peace-meal fashion, 2-3 times a year, all the time blaming anybody who opposed them that they "were not supporting the troops."
During all this time the Congress and the White House were controlled by the Republican party.
This is just plain fact and not about "looking for blame."

Finally, earmarks make up less than 2% of the just passed appropriations bill, and the number of earmarks have started to fall 16,000 to 9,000 ever since the Democrats are back in the majority since 2006.
Please Kathleen, don't listen to what pundits and certain politicians (i.e. John McCain) say, look at the facts.

Now, is anybody else bothering to read and comment on the "Energy and Water" section of the stimulus bill or am I the only one?

Mar. 12 2009 11:35 AM

I really don't understand comments like Betty Ann's. Obama was elected because he promised real change to the government and how things are done. Line by line checking of bills to make sure there wasn't any waste, transparency so we can easily see where the money is being spent, we were to hold him accountable. Truth is, all of that was campaign promises, not truth but we will still hope for the reform he talked about. Earmarks and overspending is out of control with both Democrats and Republicans. If we could come together as a country of "we the people" and demand these changes instead of looking backwards for blame, we might get somewhere.

Mar. 12 2009 08:56 AM
Sascha M. from Hell's Kitchen

Your link points to the wrong version of the Bill!
It points to the version the House passed, so-called H.R. 1 (eh), i.e. before the Senate's amendments were considered. The "eh" stand for "engrossed in House". If you look at the link you see right away that it points to that version.
Please change the link to the final version which is H.R. 1 (enr), the "enrolled bill."
Links to the 'incorrect' and final version are at the GPO access website:

Also the section 'Energy and Water' now begins at page 20.

Here's the full link to the PDF of the final version as signed by the president:

Mar. 10 2009 05:56 PM
Sascha M. from Hell's Kitchen

To [1] Joe from Brooklyn. It might seem daunting to quickly read up on the statutes referred to in the bill, but the US code is completely searchable online by going to
If you know the title and section of the statute then Cornell university's collection will quickly get you to the right place:

I think we all should look more often into important laws ourselves, rather than just listening to the interpretation of political talking heads. Great initiative Steve Coll!

Mar. 10 2009 12:44 PM
Daniel Seaman from Richmond Hill

To Steve Coll,

I owe it to you to look at the Stimulus
Package. You wrote two excellent books that played an important part in my understanding of 9/11. The clarity that you provided to me about The Bin Ladens still fascinates me. I recently read that one of his sons has left Iran to join his dad. He lives !
I hope you can bring the same clarity to "The Stimulus." Different subject---Equally murky


Mar. 09 2009 02:53 PM
Karen from Westchester

a lot of legal language.
point to consider is that money is going to Army Corps of Engineers, the work may be good for the environment, but the Corps already have jobs. I see the Missippi River mentioned but nothing about raising levees.

Mar. 09 2009 12:54 PM

To [3] Betty Anne from UES

It's the price you pay for transparency. Plus they probably feel pressure from groups to show that they so not have a liberal bias. Yes it's stupid. I know.

I guess the twisted logic would be when you are really liberal you have to prove how tough you are on the stimulus. It's like a rightwinger that we learn frequents prostitutes or is a homosexual, but goes overboard on family values.

Mar. 09 2009 11:46 AM
Edward from NJ

Perhaps the vagueness of "space exploration" is an attempt to avoid the appearance of the dreaded "earmark". Insert outraged Republican decrying the $150 million to [smirk] "study asteroids" here.

Mar. 09 2009 11:43 AM

I am disappointed that there is not one mention of nuclear power in the bill. I tried searching the document.

Mar. 09 2009 11:43 AM
Betty Anne from UES

I love that the media and pundits are actually scrutinizing Obama's this "stimulus" plan where were they when Bush was spending in Iraq?

I don't remember this being done then. Why now?

Mar. 09 2009 11:41 AM
Darius from Prospect Heights

I LOVE this idea and I've decided to do this project with Howard Zinn's "Voices of a People's History of the United States."

Mar. 09 2009 11:37 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

The problem with reading the "Stimulus" bill is that it refers to so many laws and statutes that u need the complete library of congress to read thru it.

Mar. 09 2009 11:23 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.