Archive for the ‘stimulus’ tag
Just how out of touch is John Boehner anyway?
Last year, he nearly caused the United States to default on its debt, and this year, he’s whistling the same tune, refusing to raise the debt ceiling and calling for spending cuts.
We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. As a matter of fact, I think we should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.
A town “infamous for inaction?” Doesn’t he means a party infamous for inaction?
The GOP unanimously said “no” to the health care reform bill. “No” to the $787 billion stimulus package, which, by the way, is responsible for many job-creating infrastructural improvements across the nation, and “no” to nearly everything else Obama has put on the table.
The GOP has languished in Washington the last four years and has been little more than dead weight, unceasingly complaining about Obama, yet accomplishing next to nothing, unless pushing the party even further to the right, “symbolically” passing votes and “symbolically” reading the Constitution counts for accomplishing something.
And at a time when we can clearly witness austerity cuts in Europe failing miserably, Boehner is calling for — wait for it — more austerity cuts. Lucid as ever, Fareed Zakaria identifies the problem with spending cuts in already sagging economy:
The problem is that as these governments cut spending in very depressed economies, it has caused growth to slow even further — you see government workers who have been fired tend to buy fewer goods and services, for example — and all this means falling tax receipts and thus even bigger deficits.
Spending cuts don’t just affect government workers. That’s just one obvious example. If the government starts hacking away at services that improve people’s lives, their quality of life diminishes, thus, not only are they less happy, more apathetic and more likely to hoard what little savings they do have, but they are less likely to turn around and invigorate the economy with new consumer-side spending.
I’m reminded of two memorable lines from Tony Benn, who was interviewed for the 2007 movie, “Sicko:”
Keeping people hopeless and pessimistic – see I think there are two ways in which people are controlled — first of all frighten people and secondly demoralize them.
An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
So, let’s look at the other side. What about people that make more than $250,000 per year? When government hands them tax breaks, do they help stimulate the economy? Not so much. Sure, they spend some, but I would wager that rich people are not primarily concerned with consumer spending, but with saving and investing. After all, there is a reason some people are able to accumulate mass amounts of wealth. They happen to be good with managing money and have some smart investment sense. Good for them. But that doesn’t help the national economy or the American public.
The lights are going out all over America — literally. Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno.
Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel. — Paul Krugman
In a literally and figuratively dark column today, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman made the case that American politicians’ inept and, in the case of centrist Democrats and Republicans, failed approach to keeping our local and state infrastructure sustainable has already set us on a gloomy path to fall well behind other modern countries. As he said,
Emerging nations are making huge efforts to upgrade their roads, their ports and their schools. Yet in America we’re going backward.
Krugman makes the case the decades of antigovernment talk has gotten us here,
rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.
And I don’t see signs of this type of nonsense letting up. In fact, with the advent of the Tea Party, the ones doing the spewing are probably energizing their frightened, quivering masses even more. My adopted state of Georgia provides a telling a case. Crippled by continued and seemingly endless cuts to state agency budgets, local and state offices can barely do their jobs. Late last month, already trimmed agency budgets in Georgia received a 4 percent cut on top of what has already been slashed. The cuts didn’t affect K-12 schools (although prior cuts have) but were handed down to other agencies, including colleges. The same centrist Democrats and Republicans were in a position to make up for at least some of the shortfalls in Washington by passing along an added $375 million of stimulus money to assist some 30 states, including Georgia. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
But conservative Democrats and Republicans in Congress stalled the funding, arguing that it added to the burgeoning federal deficit. Lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) say they can only support it if there are offsetting spending cuts.
“Our national debt has now surpassed $13 trillion and we cannot continue spending at this alarming rate,” Isakson said. “This is a painful debate, but it is a necessary debate.”
These types of politicians have shown again and again that it’s not people that they care about (Actually, they care much less for certain people than others and hold still others in contempt for their lifestyles or choices) but protecting their rich interests, rich backers or ignorant constituents who vote along the party lines or for whoever says the word “god” the most, and this seems to be the case regardless of how soulless and spineless its representatives have become. Here’s Krugman again:
The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.
So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we’ve taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford may take the $8 billion or so of stimulus money allocated for his state, despite largely disagreeing with the Obama administration’s version of the stimulus plan.
… he says ultimately he represents the interests of the almost 5 million people of his state, and he will look over the plan and decide whether some parts would work for South Carolina. — AP
Given the state of education, Medicaid and jobless funding in South Carolina, this is certainly good news. As I stated here, Sanford’s refusal of the money would have been a cruel slight at many who are hurting in this state, not to mention the struggling agencies. Of course, the state may have gotten the money anyway since there’s a provision that says the legislature can accept the money with or without the approval of the governor.
In fact, if one takes a look at how the money will be divided, South Carolina is among the states which will received the highest percentage based on the gross state product. So, of course, Sanford probably doesn’t want to seem like a hypocrite by railing so heavily against the Obama’s package and then turning around and accepting money via a bill he didn’t agree with. Other than that, it’s not clear why Sanford would be so against taking the money, since S.C. fares quite well in getting its cut of the pie.
The Associated Press has reported that a few governors may opt to refuse economic stimulus money, including this guy, the governor of my home state, Mark Sanford, R-S.C.:
This, despite the fact that many of these states, including South Carolina, are in dire need of extra cash. In South Carolina, cuts in education have come frequently and local school districts are scrambling in attempts to save money, yet not have the local cutbacks affect what happens in the classroom. The state’s Medicaid program nearly dropped hospice care from its coverage to save cash and other areas are severely being short-changed because of the economy.
Thankfully, according to the AP,
… governors who reject some of the stimulus aid may find themselves overridden by their own legislatures because of language (U.S. Rep. James) Clyburn (D-S.C.) included in the bill that allows lawmakers to accept the federal money even if their governors object.
He inserted the provision based on the early and vocal opposition to the stimulus plan by South Carolina’s Republican governor, Mark Sanford. But it also means governors like Sanford and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal — a GOP up-and-comer often mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential candidate — can burnish their conservative credentials, knowing all the while that their legislatures can accept the money anyway.
This is ironic indeed since Clyburn is also from South Carolina. Sanford’s rejection of any stimulus money, as Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler seemed to imply, would be cruel to people in this state who stand to benefit greatly from the boost:
He’s so ideological. He would rather South Carolina do without jobs than take that money, and I think he’s looking for a way not to take it.
In short, Sanford doesn’t care about the best interests of the people in his state. He cares about upholding the ideals of his own party. Party over people: That’s a nice mantra, albeit, not a very endearing one … or compassionate one.
Sanford’s office responded thusly, as spokesman Joel Sawyer said,
We’re going through a 1,200-page bill to determine what our options are. From there, we’ll make decisions.
But it may not matter. Hopefully, the lawmakers in Columbia will have enough sense help out our kids, our unemployed, our sick and others who could benefit from relief from all the financial bleeding this state has suffered through lately.
According to a recent U.S. News & World Report story, conservative talk show commentator and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson criticized Rush Limbaugh’s comments, heard here:
in which Limbaugh said he wished, not only for the stimulus plan to fail, but also for Obama himself to fail in the presidency. We know Limbaugh to be obnoxious and so irrationally conservative that he can’t see straight — and often, downright mean — but he said during this interview with Sean Hannity that he hoped Barack Obama failed in his presidency IF he threw out Bush’s tax cuts and signed on to many traditional “liberal” policies.
Here, in a clipping from the U.S. News & World Report article, Robertson, when asked,
So you don‘t subscribe to Rush Limbaugh‘s “I hope he fails“ school of thought?
That was a terrible thing to say. I mean, he’s the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn’t, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally.
Some, like a fellow who named himself “Indiana” on the U.S. News & World Report Web site, have claimed the criticism of Limbaugh was ill-conceived:from
Limbaugh has to be the most miserable person on the planet. The policies he would like to see enacted are anachronistic and inadequate, and he probably knows it. That’s likely why he sounds so mad all the time. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathon is probably overkill, but we need big plans, not small ones. We need big thoughts and big ideas, not more of the same. More of the same has run this economy downward. Tax cuts for the rich have gotten us nowhere because the rich care about one thing, and believe me, it’s not about helping those below them on the economic social ladder. They care about getting richer and holding on to their precious treasures. The bank debacle proves as much. The automaker execs flying into Washington on private jets proves it again. We hear Limbaugh’s passion. Heck, he should come down to earth and use some of that passion to help get things done for folks who are hurting, but he would be unwilling. He’s not hurting, and he’s got two decades of broadcasting vested and wrapped up in the alternate view.
It’s disheartening that more GOP members overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus plan. They, of course, made it clear why they did it: not enough (or the right kind of) tax cuts, an “orgy” of spending, as Lindsey Graham dubbed it, etc etc. Despite President Obama’s numerous statements that he would like the bill to be a bipartisan effort, I think it was a rancor move by the GOP to so overwhelmingly vote against it, as if to say, “We can’t have it our way? Fine. We’ll take our cookies and go home.”
Republicans did have an alternative, which was John McCain’s $421 billion plan that focused more on cutting income and payroll taxes and less on spending. Critics like to rail that we shouldn’t just throw money at the problem and that the best way to fix some of our economic woes is to give more tax cuts to businesses, thus creating jobs. But here’s the rub: That sounds like a good idea, but our problems are much larger than job creation at this point. Some of our most basic institutions are in dire need of assistance. This bill, indeed, “throws money,” quite rightly, at three such areas, among others:
Education — In my home state (South Carolina), local school districts are scrambling to make ends meet amid widespread budget cuts from the state. Local officials seem to be doing a good job, at least in the county I live in, of cutting wherever necessary without having those cuts affect what happens in the classroom. But if the cuts continue, what happens in the classroom will eventually be affected, whether it be from cutting teacher salaries and benefits (some of this has already happened) thus not attracting quality educators … from making reductions in the quality of supplies, books and the like to save some cash. The current bill offers $44.5 billion to help local districts attempt to delay cutbacks and layoffs.
Health care — Giving tax cuts to small business is fine, but many small businesses can’t afford private health insurance, and Cobra is outrageous. The bill offers a 65 percent subsidy for those on Cobra, among other provisions, like assistance for states to continue funding Medicaid. One case in my state was that of Medicaid-funded hospice care. The state said it would discontinue paying on hospice, thus forcing those with chronic conditions to visit hospitals, rather than get cheaper home care for their conditions. One child with cerebral palsy was costing $131 per day to be treated by hospice professionals. His mother was paying with Medicaid. Had hospice been dropped, she would have taken him to the hospital or other doctors for the care he needed. One day in the local hospital here for him would have cost Medicaid more than $1,000. It makes fiscal sense to do all we can to keep Medicaid well-funded, lest folks with chronic conditions are forced to settle for indignant care at local hospitals, given the ballooned cost of basic health care. What sort of drain would it mean for the economy if hospitals across the country tanked because there was no system like Medicaid in place to help meet the needs of people who require expensive treatment just to keep them alive? Medicaid is not the least of the institutions which needed money “thrown” at it.
Unemployment — Again, this state’s jobless funds are in trouble. The bill provides $40 billion for states’ unemployment benefits.
(The above information about the stimulus plan comes from this AP report.)
Thus, the Obama administration’s bill is really more than just an economic stimulus; it’s a wide-sweeping plan to not only help put more money in individual pockets, but to bolster some of our most basic, and critical, institutions. It’s also at least a beginning to a potential fulfillment of one of Obama’s campaign promises: to fix broken schools, broken health care and broken infrastructure. It’s far-reaching. Why Republicans see this as a bad thing is a mystery. There were certain elements about it that I question. I haven’t checked if these were eventually axed, but they include:
- A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion pictures;
- $650 million for the digital television (DTV) converter box coupon program; and
- $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees. (From: CNN.com)
The Republicans’ notion of smaller government sounds good in theory, but in critical times like this, it’s simply inadequate for such weighty problems. It’s equivalent to if there existed only one small hospital and one hotel in a large metropolis: the institutions are dwarfed by the need. In times like these, the notion of small government breaks down.
It’s also interesting to note that politicians and talking heads who tout such an idea are on board when it comes to certain areas (gun control, financial deregulations, for instance) and all for government intervention in other areas (abortion, gay rights, censorship, for instance). They are all for that silly notion of trickle down economics (Let’s not actually help the poor and middle class too much, let’s wait for the rich’s resources to run down the pipeline. We saw how well that worked as banks and lenders greedily operated almost unchecked, darn near running our entire financial system into the ground. They were clearly interested in funneling some of their cash our way, huh?). Yet, in the latter areas, some on the right believe government has (and should have) a monopoly on morality and seem to think we can’t take care of ourselves and that we should read our Bibles more. The contradiction is shocking.
Regardless, the bill passed to the chagrin of many and will supposedly create about 3.5 million jobs, along with “throwing money at” struggling institutions. We can only wait to see how it will pan out, but what was needed was sweeping reform that tackles many critical areas at once, and right or wrong, this bill gives us that.
Eight top bankers appeared before Congress this week to tell lawmakers and the public how they are spending funds from the bailout. Previously, as I noted here, the CEOs were “declining to” release how the money is being spent. This failure of accountability on their part was, of course, irresponsible and quite pompous, and the American public had a right to be angry at these folks.
The bankers who testified this week seemed to confirm as much. Yet, their audacity is far from vanquished in my view.
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit said his salary would be set at $1 with no bonus until the company makes money again.
He also struck an apologetic tone for letting the bank consider buying a private jet plane after receiving bailout money. The bank ultimately scrapped the plan under pressure from Obama.
“We did not adjust quickly enough to this new world,” Pandit said. “I get the new reality and I will make sure Citi gets it as well.”
“We understand taxpayers are angry” and they are right in demanding that institutions receiving their money take a “conservative, sober and frugal” approach to using it, said Kenneth D. Lewis of Bank of America.
And the proof is in this statement: “We did not adjust quickly enough to this new world. I get the new reality and I will make sure Citi gets it as well.” New world? A world in which every piece of luxury bank execs want is not at their fingertips? A world where, dare we say, financiers must come down to earth, struggle and try to get through this crisis with the rest of us? The new reality is that it’s not OK — and that it’s quite disgusting — to receive bailout money and then turn around attempt to buy a private jet with that same money. The new reality is that these folks must be held accountable for where the money is going, and if they aren’t willing to be audited whenever lawmakers see fit, they should receive no further assistance. It’s a positive that Pandit’s salary will be $1 until the company turns around — as if he needs more — but I think many still have a sour taste in their mouths over these folks (and let’s not forget the automakers execs who were also reluctant to give up their precious luxuries to help their companies save a buck).
John J. Mack, head of Morgan Stanley, had it right when he told the House Financial Institutions Committee: ”Both our firm and our industry have far to go to regain the trust of taxpayers, investors and public officials.”
I think it’s good some of these provisions were axed from the stimulus bill. Some of this stuff is just goofy, i.e.: law enforcement wireless (How will this stimulate the economy?), $98 milli0n for school nutrition (?), $50 million for exploration (of what? Exploring how to better the economy?), historic preservation, homeland security, etc etc.
Here’s what’s been partially or wholly cut …
• $3.5 billion for energy-efficient federal buildings (original bill $7 billion)
• $75 million from Smithsonian (original bill $150 million)
• $200 million from Environmental Protection Agency Superfund (original bill $800 million)
• $100 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (original bill $427 million)
• $100 million from law enforcement wireless (original bill $200 million)
• $300 million from federal fleet of hybrid vehicles (original bill $600 million)
• $100 million from FBI construction (original bill $400 million)
• $55 million for historic preservation
• $122 million for Coast Guard polar icebreaker/cutters
• $100 million for Farm Service Agency modernization
• $50 million for Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service
• $65 million for watershed rehabilitation
• $100 million for distance learning
• $98 million for school nutrition
• $50 million for aquaculture
• $2 billion for broadband
• $100 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology
• $50 million for detention trustee
• $25 million for Marshalls Construction
• $300 million for federal prisons
• $300 million for BYRNE Formula grant program
• $140 million for BYRNE Competitive grant program
• $10 million state and local law enforcement
• $50 million for NASA
• $50 million for aeronautics
• $50 million for exploration
• $50 million for Cross Agency Support
• $200 million for National Science Foundation
• $100 million for science
• $1 billion for Energy Loan Guarantees
• $4.5 billion for General Services Administration
• $89 million General Services Administration operations
• $50 million from Department of Homeland Security
• $200 million Transportation Security Administration
• $122 million for Coast Guard Cutters, modifies use
• $25 million for Fish and Wildlife
• $55 million for historic preservation
• $20 million for working capital fund
• $165 million for Forest Service capital improvement
• $90 million for State and Private Wildlife Fire Management
• $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start
• $5.8 billion for Health Prevention Activity
• $2 billion for Health Information Technology Grants
• $600 million for Title I (No Child Left Behind)
• $16 billion for school construction
• $3.5 billion for higher education construction
• $1.25 billion for project based rental
• $2.25 billion for Neighborhood Stabilization