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Jewish World Review
July 10, 2009 / 18 Tamuz 5769
Help: They are talking about a new stimulus!
Obama economic adviser Laura Tyson has suggested that the U.S.
should consider a new economic stimulus package because the $787 billion
bill enacted in February was "a bit too small." Right. That $787 billion
came just months after the Bush stimulus of $150 billion (how quaint it
seems in retrospect), the $700 billion TARP program, the $60 billion auto
bailout, and a $3.6 trillion budget for the next fiscal year among other
spending orgies. President Obama has declined to rule out another gargantuan
transfer payment from the future to the present. Other Democrats, Roll Call
suggests, are less enthusiastic. "Bailout fatigue has settled in and it
would be very difficult to get such a bill through the Senate," an aide told
If this massive hemorrhage of tax dollars doesn't provoke second
thoughts, people have forgotten how to think. Though the Obama
administration insisted that the stimulus was too urgent to permit debate,
too pressing to permit time to read the legislation, only a fraction of the
money allocated has actually been pushed out the door five months on. And
while Americans were encouraged to conceive of the stimulus as a latter day
Civilian Conservation Corps, with platoons of shovel-shouldering men
marching out to repair roads, build bridges, and sing catchy folk songs, the
reality is otherwise.
Ninety billion dollars of the stimulus funds are allocated not
to infrastructure but to increasing the federal matching portion of state
Medicaid expenses through Jan. 1, 2011. As President Obama's OMB Director
Peter Orszag acknowledged in congressional testimony last year, "if federal
assistance merely provides fiscal relief by paying for spending that would
have occurred anyway and does not affect state and local revenues in the
short run, then it provides no economic stimulus." Transferring check
writing from Trenton and Sacramento and Augusta to Washington, D.C., may
ease state budget crises, but by no stretch can this be considered a jobs
program or anything but a trifling stimulation of economic activity.
Besides, it rewards states that have failed to budget prudently and punishes
those who have shown self-restraint. Will those states, most disastrously
California, that got themselves into a fiscal mess by failing to control
spending, be more or less likely in the future to act responsibly now that
they are receiving a federal subvention?
As for that section of the stimulus that does deal with
infrastructure, an Associated Press study of 5,500 planned transportation
projects has found that stimulus cash is flowing less to counties with high
unemployment rates and more to those with lower unemployment. "Altogether,
the government is set to spend 50 percent more per person in areas with the
lowest unemployment than it will in communities with the highest."
If you wonder how the government could be so inept as to fail to
target aid toward those most in need, you might want to consider that when
politicians make decisions, they tend to be politically motivated. Sen. Tom
Coburn, R-Okla., has assembled a list of 100 stimulus recipients. Here's an
instructive one: The John Murtha Airport in Johnstown/Cambria County, Pa.,
will receive $800,000 in economic stimulus funds to repave the backup
runway, though only about 20 people a day use the airport. How odd.
The Social Security Administration admits that it mailed out
10,000 checks (using stimulus funds) to "deceased persons." The SSA blamed
pressure to spend the money quickly.
A non-existent lake in Oklahoma is going to get $1 million for a
Union, N.Y., (population 56,000) was notified that it would be
receiving a $578,661 stimulus grant to prevent homelessness. The town
fathers were nonplussed as 1) they had never applied for the grant, and 2)
they do not have a homelessness problem. But note the number: It's so
non-round, so specific. Is there a department at HUD responsible for
inventing plausible-sounding numbers?
The state of Wisconsin, Coburn reports, has 1,256 structurally
deficient bridges, more than Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska combined.
Yet no stimulus funds are flowing to repair those bridges. Instead, the feds
are sending $15.8 million in transportation stimulus money to repair 37
rural bridges that hardly anyone uses. Why? It seems the rural projects were
more "shovel-ready" and got pushed to the head of the queue.
But perhaps the most emblematic example of your tax dollars at
work is this one: Road signs are being purchased at a cost of $300 apiece
advertising that "This construction project" is being paid for with stimulus
funds. Illinois alone has already spent $150,000 on such signs.
Yes, it's obvious that we need more of this.
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