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Commentary: Ridiculous items in stimulus plan

  • Story Highlights
  • Ruben Navarrette: Stimulus bill passed House largely on party lines
  • He says it included some political giveaways that won't boost the economy
  • Spending on birth control as a stimulus measure was thankfully dropped, he says
  • Navarrette: Obama must take a harder line in saying what he will tolerate
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says some provisions in the stimulus bill will spend money but not boost the economy.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says some provisions in the stimulus bill will spend money but not boost the economy.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- So much for the new bipartisanship.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's $819 billion economic stimulus bill pretty much along party lines, with the exception of 11 Democrats who voted against the plan.

After the vote, Obama said he hoped to "continue to strengthen" the bill as it made its way through the Senate.

I'd settle for removing more of the ridiculous items that House Democrats slipped into the legislation to advance their sociopolitical agenda. Like $350 million for child care on military bases. Or $335 million to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

In normal economic times, there might not be anything wrong with this. But these aren't normal times. And these politically motivated giveaways do nothing to fight the recession.

Another such item, which was removed from the bill, was a plan to spend more than $200 million on birth control funding as a way of stimulating the economy.

Who could possibly defend such a thing? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi concocted an argument that was ridiculous and offensive. In fact, the argument was so bad that it might have single-handedly led to the demise of the funding, which some conservatives considered a giveaway to Planned Parenthood.

When ABC's George Stephanopolous asked Pelosi to explain how birth control helps the economy, here's what the speaker said: "The family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now, and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those -- one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government."

You know the nation's cupboard is bare when politicians propose limiting the number of births as a way of improving the economy. That's a conversation we shouldn't be having.

There is nothing more private -- that is, none of the government's business -- than the personal decision that a family makes about how many children to have. Besides, Pelosi's comments had an ugly ring to them.

For a minute, it sounded as if the House speaker was channeling the ghost of Margaret Sanger. The 20th-century birth control advocate is a hero to those who worship at the altar of reproductive freedom. She even founded the American Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood.

But there is more. Sanger also embraced birth control as a means of social engineering. She was a leader in the eugenics movement, which had a number of influential supporters.

Many in that school of thought considered immigrant groups like Jews, Italians and Irish to be inferior genetically, and they felt that these groups were having too many children, a trend they believed needed to be stopped -- by forced sterilization if necessary.

In an article she wrote in 1932 for Birth Control Review, a publication she founded, she spelled out her "Plan for Peace," which included having "Congress set up a special department for the study of population problems and appoint a Parliament of Population" whose main objectives would include keeping "the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race such as ... [those] barred by the immigration laws of 1924." Those laws were mainly intended to stop the immigration of Italians, Greeks and Jews.

Nice. There are still people who believe that stuff. The only difference is that, in this century, the folks under attack are more likely to be Hispanic or African-American.

When you make the argument that contraception is a cost-saving measure for state and federal government, some might think what you're implying is that the babies who would otherwise have been born were destined to become dependent on welfare and other public services.

And for those who think wrongly that welfare dependents only come in two colors -- black and brown -- it's easy to see which births need to be controlled. That's how you connect the dots.

Now, maybe that isn't where Pelosi was headed with her comments. It doesn't matter. She shouldn't have said what she said. Imagine if these remarks had come from a conservative Republican from a red state instead of a liberal Democrat from a blue state. The left-leaning media would have gone nuts.

Either way, Pelosi's comments apparently didn't go over splendidly at the White House. After the interview, Obama urged congressional leaders to pull the plug on the funding for birth control, which they did.

From now on, President Obama should be more clear about what he wants from Democrats in Congress and what he will not tolerate.

And the same goes for the American people. After all, they're the ones getting stuck with the tab for all this.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

All About Barack ObamaNancy PelosiBirth Control

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