One of the (correct) complaints about the proposed stimulus plan is that it's full of all kinds of programs that would appear to have nothing to do with any accepted economic theory about what sorts of spending could even possibly lead to recovery. The best example of this is the funds for family planning policy that are [UPDATE: now "were", but there are plenty of other examples] in the bill. Of course to those who understand public choice, none of this is a surprise. One good argument against a stimulus package is that any package will necessarily have more pork in it than the Dinosaur BBQ.
That all said, I think there's something else at work here. This isn't just your run-of-the-mill pork. What we are seeing happen right now is that Congress sees this crisis as an opportunity to enact a whole variety of programs that they've wanted to pass for years, especially (but not only) the Democrats who no longer fear a veto, and now finally have the chance. Just as the Patriot Act was a bunch of laws waiting for a political "crisis," so is much of the stimulus package a bunch of programs waiting for an economic "crisis." The current crisis is just a convenient excuse.
But that's not all. Lest we get overwhelmed with nostalgia, we should remember that the exact same thing was true of much of the New Deal. Numerous commentators, from Hughes and Cain's American economic history textbook to authors like Amity Shlaes, have pointed out that a great deal of what FDR did in his first two terms were ideas that had been bouncing around the American left for years, and the Great Depression became the chance to put them into practice. New Deal spending wasn't primarily about economic recovery, it was about transforming the American economy. Tom Friedman's NYT column from last week captures this spirit with respect to the current situation.
What is on the table in Washington today simply has nothing to do with any serious economic thinking, as Pete's post below suggests. This is why people like Krugman and DeLong have to accuse their opponents of acting in bad faith: there is precious little economic evidence for the benefits of large fiscal policy initiatives. What these are really about is enacting programs and policies that people like them have wanted for years on their own supposed merits, independent of any "stimulus." The crisis is just the reason to carpe diem. So rather than a debate over the merits of particular programs, we get the language of crisis and fear thrown at us so that we'll swallow them all, whole hog, with little debate. Accusing your opponents of being "ethics-free Republican hacks" and refusing to examine the actual evidence of the Hoover and FDR years means you don't have to argue for the merits of the individual pieces, just scare the public and demonize the opposition. Of course, that's exactly what these same folks complained about after 9/11. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss indeed. (And the evidence against The Shock Doctrine is now approaching that of The Population Bomb.)
Bottom line: the more that those of us who are skeptical continue to even refer to this as a "stimulus" plan, the more we play into the other side's hands. This isn't a stimulus package, it's a whole bunch of programs designed to extend the state's role in the economy and in our personal lives, and to do so at enormous cost to us, and to our children and grandchildren. Let's challenge the rhetoric of fear and crisis and name this for what it is: the current majority's attempt to do exactly what the Bush Administration did post-9/11, which is to use fear and crisis to pass programs that will impoverish us and curtail our freedoms, and to do so with the minimum of serious debate possible.