Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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next week's column: A Stimulating Look at the Spending Bill


I’ve been asked to explain some of the details of the new economic stimulus package. I’m a little concerned because the people who asked me are Congressmen.

First, there’s a difference between the bailout measures, which cost an estimated million bazillion dollars, and the stimulus package, which cost an estimated two million bazillion dollars:

Basically, a bailout is when the government takes your money and gives it to failed companies. A stimulus package is when the government takes your money and uses it to create new jobs so companies don’t fail. See the difference?

The new bill is the largest thing to hit Washington since President Taft’s bathtub was installed. It’s a blend of spending, tax cuts and incentives, designed to drag us out of our economic doldrums, rather like your mom dragging you out of bed at noon and sending you out to hunt for a job. Let’s take a quick look at some of the details. The bill as written includes, among other things:

A system to electronically track the medical treatments and history of ever person in the U.S. I suppose the idea is that employees will be needed to enter all that data and set up the systems. The bill also creates a new bureaucracy which will monitor treatments, to make sure your doctor does what the government deems appropriate and cost effective. I always figured a doctor should make those decisions, but you have to admit – nothing creates more jobs than a new bureaucracy.

$150 million for the Smithsonian institute, “America’s attic”.

$50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, because artists have to eat, too.

$380 million for a nutrition program rainy day fund, just in case. I’m not sure how that relates to job creation, but nutrition is a good thing – I’ve always meant to try it.

$6 billion on university building projects. Construction work, there.

$15 billion to expand the Pell Grant program. I’m not clear on how this relates to economic stimulus, but maybe it would get some unemployed youths into college.

$5.2 billion for ACORN, an organization accused during the election of voter fraud aimed at getting one side elected. But it was the correct side, you see. The money is for “neighborhood stabilization activities”, according to the National Review.

$90 million to educate “vulnerable populations” that they need to buy converter boxes, or the digital switch will take their TV’s away. Um … maybe they’re trying to make sure the unemployed will still have reality television to take their minds off their problems?

$650 million for digital-TV coupons, so those people can go digital. Since it’s the government that required TV stations to go digital, I’m okay with the program – but I question if this will start enough coupon-making jobs to be cost effective.

$350 million for new computers at The Agriculture Department. Bill Gates must be dancing in the streets.

$200 million on “climate research missions” for NASA I know what you’re thinking: What does climate research have to do with an economic stimulus package? Well, science geeks pay bills just like regular people.

$600 million to convert the federal auto fleet to hybrids. If the government wants to come out of this with an inch of credibility, those hybrids had better be built by Americans.

$1 billion for the Census Bureau. That’ll create some temporary jobs; you can count on it.

$87 million for a polar icebreaking ship. I don’t understand this one; isn’t global warming taking care of that problem for us?

$4.5 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The problem with this is that it doubles the budget of an agency which currently has a $3.2 billion unobligated balance – money they haven’t figured out how to use yet. “They cannot spend that money wisely,” according to Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “I don’t even think they can spend that much money unwisely.” (National Review)

Oh, come on. The government can always find a way to spend money unwisely.

$2 billion for renewable energy research. Let’s see … if each person hired for this project makes $50,000 a year, that would mean …40,000 jobs! We’re well on our way.

$79 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. According to the National Review, which unlike Congress actually had someone read the new bill, this fund would take taxpayer funds away from states that have been careful with their budgets, and give it to states that are in financial trouble.

Wait. Did I read that right?

So what’s the final word on the economic stimulus package? Some of the spending is just plain pork; some consists of worthwhile programs that don’t relate to the subject at hand, and should be voted on separately; and there’s a little actual economic stimulus in there.

In his defense it was Congress, not President Obama, that loaded the bill with pork and projects that will spend more money than the jobs they create are worth. However, he does seem to be buying into the all too common Washington idea that the winners are the only ones who are right:

“There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy.”

That sounds all too much like Al Gore’s famous “The debate is over” comment. Sure enough, two hundred top economists – including three Nobel Prize winners – signed an open letter in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, in which they did indeed disagree. Not only do they not think spending will help, they believe that the most often quoted example – Roosevelt’s New Deal programs – did not end the Great Depression, as so many of us assume.

It’s awfully hard to see so many people suffer without trying something, but whether the bill will help our economy or not, we’re living on borrowed time. Another trillion dollars, heaped on top of our already enormous debt, is guaranteed to come back to haunt us. The attitude of Congress seems to be that there’s no need to worry beyond the next election, but I have grandkids – and I wouldn’t want to borrow a million dollars against my $55,000 home, then leave it for them to worry about making the payments.
Tags: column, new era, politics, slightly off the mark

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