Brzezinski persists with food stamp claim, despite economists' flat rejection
Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski has relentlessly repeated the claim that funding for "welfare programs" and nutrition assistance included in the recovery bill is "not stimulus," even after CNBC's Erin Burnett cited economist Mark Zandi and said that "[f]ood stamps" and "[u]nemployment benefits" are some of the measures that "would increase spending." Other economists have also said that programs that provide aid to state governments and individuals, would, in the words of CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, "have a significant impact on GDP."
On the past three editions of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski has relentlessly repeated the claim  that funding for "welfare programs" and nutrition assistance included in the recovery bill is "not stimulus," even after CNBC anchor Erin Burnett cited Mark Zandi, the chief economist and co-founder of Moody's Economy.com, on the February 2 edition of the show, and said that "[f]or food stamps, that temporary increase, you put a dollar in there, you get about $1.73 out" and that for "[u]nemployment benefits, you get $1.63 per dollar. " Burnett also said: "So a lot of these measures, short-term, would increase spending. There's no question."
On the February 3 edition of Morning Joe, Brzezinski said of the recovery bill: "There's a lot of welfare in there. There's a lot of spending. It's not stimulus." Host Joe Scarborough replied: "We're the side of good Americans who are concerned about this package. We want a stimulus package." Brzezinski then added: "[President Barack Obama] may be the second coming, but the bill is not a stimulus package." When Scarborough later said, "We can do a lot of different things other than just spending money on old-style welfare programs," Brzezinski echoed, "Welfare programs," adding, "I'm all for food stamps, but why are they in this bill?"
While Brzezinski did not specify what she meant by "[w]elfare programs," economists -- including Congressional Budget Office (CBO) director Douglas W. Elmendorf and Zandi, who was a McCain campaign economic adviser  -- have stated that, in Zandi's words, "aid to financially-pressed state governments" is an "economically potent stimulus." The House-passed recovery bill  would provide such aid to states, including additional federal matching funds  for Medicaid and the creation  of an "Emergency Contingency Fund for State Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Programs." Similarly, in January 27 written testimony  before the House Budget Committee, Elmendorf stated that "[t]ransfers to persons (for example, unemployment insurance  and nutrition assistance ) would ... have a significant impact on GDP." He added: "Because a large amount of such spending can occur quickly, transfers would have a significant impact on GDP by early 2010. Transfers also include refundable tax credits, which have an impact similar to that of a temporary tax cut."
Moreover, in his July 24, 2008, written testimony before the House Committee on Small Business, Zandi stated  that "extending food stamps are [sic] the most effective ways to prime the economy's pump." Zandi further explained: "People who receive these benefits are very hard-pressed and will spend any financial aid they receive within a few weeks. These programs are also already operating, and a benefit increase can be quickly delivered to recipients."
Zandi included with his testimony a table stating that a "Temporary Increase in Food Stamps" had the highest "Fiscal Economic Bank for the Buck" of any other potential stimulus provision he analyzed, providing a $1.73 increase in real GDP for every dollar spent:
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also stated  in a January 21 analysis of the Senate's economic recovery package, "Food stamps are one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus because low-income individuals generally spend their available resources on meeting their daily needs, such as shelter, food, and transportation."
As Media Matters for America documented , on the February 2 edition of Morning Joe, Brzezinski said that Republicans have a "fair point here to maybe remove some of the social spending" in the recovery bill, because "it doesn't add up to the definition of stimulus." She later asserted: "[D]oes this plan add up to the definition of stimulus? I don't think it does. And I don't question the value of food stamps and helping low income people pay for college. It just shouldn't be in this bill." When Time magazine's senior political analyst Mark Halperin replied, "Well, of course that will help stimulate the economy," Brzezinski insisted: "No, it won't, not right now." Later in the program, Burnett stated: "Just to weigh in quickly on what you guys said -- were talking about earlier on the stimulus package. Mark Zandi has done a great job analyzing what each of the items might do. One dollar that you spend on 'x' yields on average for the economy 'what.' For food stamps, that temporary increase, you put a dollar in there, you get about $1.73 out. So a lot of these measures, short-term, would increase spending. There's no question. Unemployment benefits, you get $1.63 per dollar."
Brzezinski similarly asserted on the January 30 edition  of Morning Joe, "[I]f you're gonna have welfare programs in this bill, call them welfare programs and pass them, but don't call them facets of the bill meant to stimulate the economy."
From the February 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
SCARBOROUGH: We're a little disturbed around the table about the so-called stimulus package, and we know you can clear it all up.
ANDREW SERWER (Fortune magazine managing editor): We're going to talk about it.
BRZEZINSKI: We've been talking about it on the radio --
BRZEZINSKI: -- and I did my research over the weekend, getting ready to fight with him --
BRZEZINSKI: -- 'cause he was away for a week. And I thought --
SCARBOROUGH: She wanted to take the traditional Marxist position.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. I think --
SERWER: Sure. Now I --
SCABOROUGH: How did that work out for you?
BRZEZINSKI: Andy, I could not find what --
SERWER: And you wanted to take the other side?
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, well -- but here's the thing.
SCARBOROUGH: She couldn't take the other side.
BRZEZINSKI: I couldn't find one.
SERWER: Why not?
BRZEZINSKI: There's a lot of welfare in there. There's a lot of spending.
SERWER: Oh, yeah. So you're both on this --
BRZEZINSKI: It's not stimulus.
SERWER: -- over here.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, you're going to help me.
SERWER: Where --
SCARBOROUGH: We're the side of good Americans who are concerned about this package. We want a stimulus package.
BRZEZINSKI: He may be the second coming --
BRZEZINSKI: -- but the bill is not a stimulus package.
WILLIE GEIST (co-host): Joe, you know what Robert Gibbs --
SERWER: I agree.
GEIST: -- says to you? You're focusing on the tiny, seven one-hundredths that you want to focus on to make a stink, and why won't you just move forward.
SCARBOROUGH: The seven one-hundredths of 1 percent, which is ironically --
BRZEZINSKI: I love my Starbucks.
SCARBOROUGH: -- also the percentage that's actually targeted towards stimulating the economy. The other 99.9999 percent is growing the welfare state by passing packages in this bill that they would never be able to pass in the light of the day.
SERWER: What should we do if we're not going to do this?
SCARBOROUGH: You know what we should do? Is we should pass legislation that will actually stimulate the economy. It --
SERWER: We know tax cuts will do it.
SCARBOROUGH: We know tax cuts will do it. I think if we get a lot more aggressive on the grid, a new-style grid from coast to coast, we can do it that way. We can invest more in mortgages. We can do a lot of different things other than just spending money on old-style welfare programs.
BRZEZINSKI: Welfare programs.
SERWER: We don't want --
FORD: But -- but --
SCARBOROUGH: I was -- I was --
BRZEZINSKI: I'm all for food stamps --
SERWER: The entitlement thing's a problem. I agree with that.
BRZEZINSKI: -- but why are they in this bill?
SERWER: I agree with you on that.
SCARBOROUGH: You -- you see, but that's a hundred bill --
FORD: But, Joe, you're against the food stamps --
SCARBOROUGH: Hold it. That's a hundred billion dollars -- the entitlement things. And then you've got $80 billion on income tax cuts for people who don't pay income taxes. Listen --
SERWER: It's a good trick.
SCARBOROUGH: If you want -- that is a good trick. I wish I could get that kind of deal.
FORD: No, we don't.
From the February 2 edition of Morning Joe:
BURNETT: You know, just to weigh in quickly on what you guys said -- were talking about earlier on the stimulus package. Mark Zandi has done a great job analyzing what each of the items might do. One dollar that you spend on "x" yields on average for the economy "what." For food stamps, that temporary increase, you put a dollar in there, you get about $1.73 out. So a lot of these measures, short-term, would increase spending. There's no question. Unemployment benefits, you get $1.63 per dollar.
The question is: Does this stimulus package include what you need after you get that immediate spending, right, which is the long-term investment in the economy, and on that, Joe, I think you are absolutely correct. The amount of money you get immediately in this package from spending immediately on infrastructure is less than 5 percent of what this country spent last year on construction. That's according to Caterpillar. That's a small amount if you think you're going to move the number -- needle.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Mika -- yeah. Yeah. Mika and I have been talking about this, Erin, but --
SCARBOROUGH: -- you're exactly right. I am not coming to the table here as a Republican saying let's cut taxes. I would cut taxes if I had my way --
SCARBOROUGH: -- but Pat and I were just talking about it --
SCARBOROUGH: -- you drive through the South, you see what FDR did, you see the TVA, you see how we transformed an entire region. If you're going to do this, you've got a trillion dollars, think big.
SCARBOROUGH: Don't give $100 billion in tax cuts to people who don't pay taxes. It's gone. It's vapor.
SCARBOROUGH: Invest. And we're not investing in infrastructure --
SCARBOROUGH: -- and that's what scares us, Erin.