Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More on the "Stimulus" Plan

More on the "Stimulus" Plan

As time goes by we are seeing many more members of the commentariat analyzing the so-called "stimulus" bill and finding more and more things wrong with it. In fact, the House today voted in favor of the bill with every single congressional republican voting against, with about a dozen democrats also displaying clear vision. Mona Charen has a lucid essay on the reason democrats are going along with Obama:
Certainly President Obama seems supremely confident that the federal government, in his own capable hands, can tackle everything from job creation to education to global warming. All that is needed is to set aside "stale" partisan arguments and salute smartly.

President Obama was a teenager when some of the smartest liberals in America (dubbed the neoconservatives) were beginning to have doubts about the power of government to do good. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer, Aaron Wildavksy, and many others observed the effects of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives and became sobered up. (A few, including Moynihan, returned to the liberal fold but most did not.) They noticed the waste and the ineffectiveness of huge government programs, but above all, they were chastened by the law of unintended consequences -- that the unforeseen or indirect effects of government policy were usually more damaging and more important than the desired effects. Minimum wage laws are a good example. Intended to help the poor earn a living wage, they instead discouraged hiring of the low-skilled. Rent control was supposed to make it easier for the poor and middle class to afford apartments but wound up making low-cost housing less available.

It was, or should have been, frightening news that the United States is now $10.7 trillion in debt, sporting a $1.2 trillion deficit. As Mark Steyn noted, your pocket calculator doesn't have enough spaces to input one trillion dollars. The Democrats' solution is to make our deficit $2 trillion with a "stimulus" package. The Congressional Budget Office (run by Democrats) reports that -- all talk of "shovel ready" projects notwithstanding -- only about 25 percent of the new spending in the package would actually be spent by 2010. And it defies common sense to believe that transferring $100 billion from the federal government to the states to help with Medicare reimbursements will stimulate economic activity. Nor will $200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall in Washington, or $500 million to install new bomb detectors at airports, or $400 million to NASA to conduct climate change research (which several other agencies are already studying), and on and on.

We are, not to put too fine a point on it, about to send another trillion dollars of our money into a rat hole. Permanent tax cuts, for individuals and businesses, have been proven to stimulate the economy. They worked under Kennedy and Reagan. But to point this out now is like shouting into a whirlwind.

Peter Ferrara has more details in The American Spectator on the pork within the bill. You can read the 76 page "Recovery Report" (.pdf) congressional democrats produced to outline the bill, but Ferrara gets some of the more egregious items listed, as in:
The massive $825 billion package is not even targeted on programs to stimulate the economy. Instead, it is laced with runaway government spending for increased welfare, overgrown bureaucracy, pork, political payoffs, and other waste. That runaway spending is causing record smashing deficits of $1.5 trillion or more, equivalent to over 50% of the entire federal budget for fiscal 2008.

For example, the "stimulus" package includes $50 million for the National Endowment of the Arts to help "the arts community throughout the United States." Wouldn't want our economy to get behind in the international arts competition. The government is going to borrow $50 million out of the private economy to spend on this, which will result in a net loss of economic output rather than a net gain.

Another $2.1 billion is for Head Start, another program not previously known for stimulating the economy. A further $2 billion is to be spent on Child Care Development Block Grants, which provide day care. We are going to revive economic growth through the federal government spending billions on babysitting, rather than tax cuts for capital investment. A similar initiative involves $120 million to finance part-time work for seniors in community service agencies.

Then there is $500 million to speed the processing of applications for Social Security disability claims. This has already created one net new job in the employment of a person within the Obama Administration assigned to figure out what this has to do with stimulating the economy.

Another $6 billion goes to college and universities. We already spend hundreds of billions on these schools, and such education provides valuable long-term benefits. But this is not a means to spark a booming economy in the short term. The same is true of the $13 billion in Title I grants "to provide extra academic support to help raise the achievement of students at risk of educational failure or to help all students in high-poverty schools meet challenging State academic standards," as the congressional report accompanying the bill explains. Ditto that for the $13 billion in IDEA, Part B State grants to help pay for "the excess costs of providing special education and related services to children with disabilities."

Then there is the effort to stimulate the economy by increasing welfare spending. There is $20 billion for increased food stamps, including lifting restrictions on how long welfare dependents can receive food stamp benefits. Another $1.7 billion is to be spent to help the homeless, not previously in our history a significant source of economic growth. Another $1 billion goes for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program, to help low income families pay their heating bills, a worthy objective that has nothing to do with stimulating the economy. Still another billion goes to the Community Services Block Grant to support "employment, food, housing, health, and emergency assistance to low-income families and individuals." Another $200 million goes for senior nutrition programs, such as Meals on Wheels. Then there is an additional $200 million for AmeriCorps, to help satisfy "increased demand for services for vulnerable populations to meet critical needs in communities across the U.S." Another $5 billion is devoted to public housing. None of this increased welfare spending has anything to do with promoting economic growth. Rather, it retards growth by inducing more dependency on government.

Another $87 billion is to be spent on Medicaid, a welfare program already costing roughly $400 billion per year. Those funds would be spent in part on "family planning services," meaning contraception. Reagan created a 25-year economic boom in part by cutting top marginal income tax rates. Liberal Democrats are now going to try to do it by passing out condoms.

Medicaid is one of the major entitlement programs projected to explode to overwhelming costs in the future. Obama is assuring the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats that he will address runaway entitlement costs as soon as next month. But to start let's increase those costs by almost $100 billion right now.

Then there is the funding to maintain and expand bureaucracy and overall big government spending. The "stimulus" package includes $2.5 billion for the National Science Foundation, $2.0 billion for the National Park Service, $650 million for the U.S. Forest Service, $600 million for NASA, $800 million for AMTRAK, $276 million to the State Department to upgrade and modernize its information technology, $150 million for maintenance work at the Smithsonian Institution, $209 million for maintenance work for the Federal Agricultural Research Service, $44 million for repairs and improvements at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Department of Agriculture, and $245 million to upgrade the information technology of the Farm Service Agency. Borrowing money from the private sector to spend on these bureaucracies will not provide a boost to the economy. It will likely again produce a net loss of output.

A shocking provision provides $1.1 billion for so-called federal comparative effectiveness research in regard to health-care services. The congressional report explaining the stimulus bill says:

By knowing what works best and presenting this information more broadly to patients and healthcare professionals, those items, procedures, and interventions that are most effective to prevent, control, and treat health conditions will be utilized, while those that are found to be less effective and in some cases, more expensive, will no longer be prescribed.

But a government bureaucracy in Washington is never going to know what "items, procedures and interventions are most effective to prevent, control and treat health conditions" for each patient, regardless of how much federal research is done. This is what doctors are for. This bureaucratic initiative is really laying the foundation for the eventual health care rationing to be imposed under the new Obama "universal" health care entitlement program, which is coming soon. I told you so, in previous columns.

To call this spending economic recovery stimulus, however, is an abuse of the English language.

Another abuse is to be found in the $4.2 billion provided to the Neighborhood Stabilization Fund, which provides the funds to local governments to purchase and rehab vacant housing due to foreclosure. The congressional report accompanying the stimulus bill states, "Up to $750 million may be used for a competition for nonprofit entities to enhance the funding included under this heading through capitalization of the funds." Reportedly, this funding is intended to be siphoned off to ACORN, the far-left, rogue, lawbreaking organization prosecuted across the country in the past couple of years for voter fraud. ACORN has also used violent intimidation tactics in the past to pursue its goals, and was heavily involved in housing programs in the past that led to widespread bad loans.

Another $79 billion is to go the states to maintain their runaway government spending, particularly for such spendthrift jurisdictions as California, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. High state government spending is also not a source of economic growth.

Then there are other items in the "stimulus" package that may involve desirable government spending, but do not involve stimulating the economy, and should be subject to the normal budget process. These include $3 billion for health care prevention and wellness programs, such as childhood immunizations and other state and local public health programs, $2.4 billion for projects demonstrating carbon capture technology, $17 billion for Pell Grants, $1 billion for Technology Education, $1.9 billion for the Energy Department for "basic research into the physical sciences," $650 million for digital TV coupons to help Americans upgrade to digital cable television, $100 million to reduce lead-based paint hazards for children in low income housing, $400 million for "habitat restoration projects" of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $1.2 billion for summer jobs for youth, $2 billion for Superfund cleanup, and others.

A massive power grab, a Trojan Horse, or however you characterize it, Peter Ferrara sums it up quite nicely:
Now what we have is not only a stimulus bill that will not work. What we have is a fraudulent bill that is not even focused on stimulus at all, but on runaway spending for liberal, big government spending programs, meaning more welfare, overgrown bureaucracy, pork, political payoffs, and waste.
I couldn't say it better than that.