It’s All Very Stimulating

Introducing Debate-o-Matic: Slate’s guide to this week’s arguments in Washington.

Barack Obama had a busy first week. He signed a raft of orders and memoranda calling for closing the government prison at Guantanamo Bay, freezing the pay of his top staffers, tightening ethical guidelines, and opening presidential records. He also instituted a daily economic briefing, kept his BlackBerry, and worked in the Oval Office without a jacket. (His predecessor required one for entry.)

To help you keep up, Slateoffers this guide to the issues of the week. Here is where the arguments stand on a few key topics.

Obama’s Stimulus Bill

Against: It won’t be stimulative, and it will bust the budget. The Congressional Budget Office says that only 7 percent of the infrastructure spending in the plan will be spent before the end of September. Less than half of the discretionary spending provided in the original version of the House stimulus bill will actually be spent before the end of September 2010. It also says less than half of the $30 billion in highway funds in the plan will be spent over the next four years. And giving $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts won’t stimulate the economy, and neither will $15 billion over the next two years for Pell grants.

For: The CBO report did not assess the overall package. The Office of Management and Budget’s analysis indicates that 75 percent of the overall package will be spent over the next year and a half. You may want to see the numbers behind the OMB claim—but it’s not publishing them. However, Obama’s top economist, Christine Romer, says the Obama plan offers the right mix for the moment: tax cuts for a quick boost plus investment for long-term economic growth. The economy gets worse by the day. Besides, where was your concern about the deficit during the last eight years?

Third option: The $825 billion bill isn’t big enough. At least that’s what Paul Krugman, Rep. David Obey, and others think.

Closing Guantanamo Bay

Not so fast: Where are you going to put these prisoners? Their home countries don’t want them, and we’re not sure we want to let them go. Sixty-one former detainees are back in the terrorism game, according to the Pentagon, including one who now is an al-Qaeda chief. Moreover, if a suspected terrorist is brought to the United States, he may have more rights than a U.S. soldier has under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Is that fair? And what about the possibility that a civilian judge could release a terrorist suspect into the U.S. population?

Close it now: As five secretaries of state have said, the single act of closing Guantanamo would improve America’s reputation in the world immediately. That figure of 61 is too high. The Pentagon figure includes 43 that are “suspected” of having become terrorists again; it’s not confirmed. The idea that moving the detainees would improve their legal status is crazy. Even the Heritage Foundation doesn’t buy that. Plus, as the Supreme Court ruled, there is no distinction between Gitmo and U.S. soil, anyway. It’s not like these guys are superhuman and will break out to terrorize the local mall.

Obama Broke His New Rules on Lobbyists

No: Barack Obama has put in place the most sweeping White House ethics rules of any president. With the exception of uniquely qualified individuals, any lobbyist who gets an administration job may not work on matters that they lobbied on and cannot even work in any agency they lobbied in past years. The rules also bar any Obama aides from lobbying former colleagues for two years. These rules have been widely praised.

Yes: The watchdog groups that praised the new ethics guidelines presumed that Obama would, in fact, live up to the rules he’d just put in place. William J. Lynn III, his choice for deputy defense secretary, was listed as a top lobbyist at the Pentagon for Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor. Making a rule and then immediately granting an exception to it undermines the administration’s boasts of rectitude.

Obama Got the Number of Presidents Wrong

Yes, he did: In his inaugural address Obama said: “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.” That’s not so. There have been 44 administrations, but Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms. He is counted as the 22nd president, serving from 1885 to 1889. He won the office again four years later, which also makes him the 24th president, serving again from 1893 to 1897.

No, he didn’t: See above.