One of the worst aspects of the "debate" over the economic stimulus package has to be the sophistry exhibited by the far right when discussing the issue. One of the purest examples of the bullshit coming from the far right was in The National Review Online this morning, in the guise of an article entitled "50 De-Stimulating Facts: Chapter and Verse on a Bad Bill" by Stephen Spruiell & Kevin Williamson. In the article, the two wingnuts cite "facts" that are certainly not factual, but no more than opinion., and that is being kind, because they are the opposite of factual. This is not unusual, of course; right wingers are always posing their opinions as "fact," even though they're usually wrong. But what makes the current effort by the right wing to muddy the waters is the fact that the lives of millions of families who are struggling with the economy these same idiots screwed up, are hanging in the balance.
We literally don't have time for this kind of crap: We just don't.
Before I get into their list of items they don't like, let's get something else out of the way first. In the introduction to the piece, they make the following claim:
The idea that the government can spend the economy out of a recession is highly questionable...
This is right wing sophistry at its ballsiest, folks.
EVERYONE knows the government spends us out of EVERY recession. See, these people would like you to believe that MARKETS can get themselves out of recession, but if you really think about it, that's a vitual impossibility. The definition of a recession is a contraction of the economy, meaning there is less money circulating through the economy for whatever reason. Therefore, in order to get the economy moving again, it's necessary to infuse money into the economy, and only governments can do that.
It's also demonstrably bullshit., as a cursory look at history tells us. Think back to the biggest and longest boom in our history, which is inarguably the quarter century after World War II. Most of it was fueled by government spending, and the few times it sputtered came when Republicans tried to put a stop to that spending. The GI Bill sent millions to college, and trained them for the new workforce. It also gave them access to money for a new home. Federal guarantees on mortgages made home loans available to many others, too, which fueled the expansion of suburban areas unlike anything seen before. There was also the Marshall Plan, in which Americans were employed to provide materials and labor to rebuild Europe and Japan. FDR himself said, after WWII pulled us out of the Depression once and for all, that his biggest mistake was not spending enough. He worried about the budget deficit to too great a degree.
Even later, to get ourselves out of the 1982 recession, none other than Ronald Reagan doubled the defense budget, and spent the money building useless weapons systems we'll hopefully never use. But the expansion of the defense budget expanded the economy.
In other words, government spending ALWAYS gets us out of recession, because they're the only ones who can. The last idiot in charge who thought the market could pull itself out of recession was Herbert Hoover. So, why are we even listening to Hoover-style Republicans now?
Anyway, here is a list of items that these tools consider to be "wasteful." In some cases, they explain why, and I'm going to explain why they're wrong.
The first part is pithily entitled "Various Left Wingery" Here's a summary of what they consider "wasteful" "Left Wingery:"
$50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts
$380 million in the Senate bill for the Women, Infants and Children program
$300 million for grants to combat violence against women
$2 billion for federal child-care block grants
$6 billion for university building projects
$15 billion for boosting Pell Grant college scholarships
$4 billion for job-training programs, including $1.2 billion for “youths” up to the age of 24
$1 billion for community-development block grants
$4.2 billion for “neighborhood stabilization activities”
$650 million for digital-TV coupons; $90 million to educate “vulnerable populations”
This is what they say about each program they comment on:
The bill provides $380 million to set up a rainy-day fund for a nutrition program that serves low-income women and children, and $300 million for grants to combat violence against women. Laudable goals, perhaps, but where’s the economic stimulus?
Okay, first of all, let's start with the fact that, in a bill that is now approaching $900 billion, thanks to crap Republicans keep amending into it, the above items are rather small. But more than that, tthey all provide a stimulus in some way. The WIC program providea a stimulus, in that women with small children are given money to buy things like food and milk, that they may not otherwise be able to afford. All of that money goes to grocery stores and farmers. I would also point out that programs that combat violence are staffed by people who get paid and then spend their money elsewhere in the community. Apparently, wingnuts are under the impression that money given to poor people evaporates into the ether. That's a load of crap; poor people spend every dime they get, and the money goes back into the community directly. A woman getting WIC vouchers is then free to spend her money on other parts of the economy, as well.
Once more; ALL money that goes to poor people is an economic stimulus. Sorry to yell that, but I get tired of repeating it. Poor people necessarily spend every dollar they get. That meets the definition of a stimulus.
Perhaps spending $6 billion on university building projects will put some unemployed construction workers to work, but how does a $15 billion expansion of the Pell Grant program meet the standard of “temporary, timely, and targeted”? Another provision would allocate an extra $1.2 billion to a “youth” summer-jobs program—and increase the age-eligibility limit from 21 to 24. Federal job-training programs—despite a long track record of failure—come in for $4 billion total in additional funding through the stimulus.
"Perhaps" the money spent on university buildings will put construction workers to work? Ya think? This is an example of just how deceptive they are, folks. Do you want to know why the expansion of the Pell Grant program is “temporary, timely, and targeted” right now, and why it's absolutely necessary? It's because one of the things that was supposed to be fixed with the original bailout bill was the student loan system, and it hasn't been fixed at all. The reason a temporary expansion of Pell Grants is necessary is because millions of college students who were supposed to get loans have been stiffed. Many have been forced to drop out, and many others have been forced to defer their educational dreams for a while, because Bush allowed crooks to hijack the economy.
And I'd like to know where they get the idea that federal job training programs have been failures, since most of them were killed when Reagan took office. And the ones, like Americorps, that remain, have been praised repeatedly for their effectiveness. And if something is a good idea, but isn't working, do you throw it out, or do you fix it? If it's possible to fix, of course you fix it.
Of course, these are the same geniuses who wants to "fix" Social Security by forcing you to invest the money in stocks. Look at your 401(k) and tell me how well that would have worked out, had they been successful.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a liberal wish list if it didn’t include something for ACORN, and sure enough, there is $5.2 billion for community-development block grants and “neighborhood stabilization activities,” which ACORN is eligible to apply for. Finally, the bill allocates $650 million for activities related to the switch from analog to digital TV, including $90 million to educate “vulnerable populations” that they need to go out and get their converter boxes or lose their TV signals. Obviously, this is stimulative stuff: Any economist will tell you that you can’t get higher productivity and economic growth without access to reruns of Family Feud.
See how they slip ACORN in there? Isn't that clever? What did ACORN do wrong again? Nothing of course. But then, right wing "facts" are never concerned with actual facts, anyway, are they?
See, here's the part they want you to forget. Community block grant programs were enormously successful when Clinton started them, and they created hundreds of thousands of jobs in inner city areas that had been abandoned for decades. So, community block grants develop inner cities, create businesses and jobs in places where none exist currently. Now, if you can't see the economic stimulus value in placing a supermarket and a few dozen small businesses in areas where there is currently no commerce, you're not thinking very hard.
As for the converter box proposal, that's an attempt to fix yet another Republican debacle. They should have just given the goddamn converter boxes to people and even hired people to install them for a nominal fee. But once again, the Republicans became cheapskates for the poor, and screwed the system up. And in the end, the government will make a lot of money from the recovered frequencies, and expand communications capabilities for first responders. Therefore, the digital converter money is money well spent. By the way, a lot more people will have to ditch their cable during the recession, making the boxes even more necessary., since a "regular" TV won't work. Thanks, Republicans.
The next section they discussed was taxes. Something interesting happened there, folks. They listed three items:
$15 billion for business-loss carry-backs
$145 billion for “Making Work Pay” tax credits
$83 billion for the earned income credit
Now, if anyone can't see how ALL of the above stimulate the economy, again; they're not looking very hard. The Earned Income Tax Credit was credited by none other than Ronald Reagan for stimulating the economy out of the 1982 Reagan Recession. Once more, any money given to poor working people stimulates the economy! The "Making Work Pay" tax credits, discussed extensively on the campaign trail, are designed to give middle class working people a break. It's strange that right wingers suddenly have a problem with tax cuts, now that they're targeted to the bottom 95%, instead of the top 5% of income earners. If handing people a check for $600 was supposed to stimulate the economy, why isn't handing working people $500 of their "own money" back considered a stimulus this time?
said, tax cuts are not enough. But they are necessary in the short term, to get
the economy moving.
Strangely, they didn't comment on the above tax cuts, except to list them. This is what they wrote instead:
The stimulus package’s tax provisions are poorly designed and should be replaced with something closer to what the Republican Study Committee in the House has proposed. Obama would extend some of the business tax credits included in the stimulus bill Congress passed about a year ago, and this is good as far as it goes. The RSC plan, however, also calls for a cut in the corporate-tax rate that could be expected to boost wages, lower prices, and increase profits, stimulating economic activity across the board.
The RSC plan also calls for a 5 percent across-the-board income-tax cut, which would increase productivity by providing additional incentives to save, work, and invest. An across-the-board payroll-tax cut might make even more sense, especially for low- to middle-income workers who don’t make enough to pay income taxes. Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit is aimed at helping these workers, but it uses a rebate check instead of a rate cut. Rebate checks are not effective stimulus, as we discovered last spring: They might boost consumption, a little, but that’s all they do.
Finally, the RSC proposal provides direct tax relief to strapped families by expanding the child tax credit, reducing taxes on parents’ investment in the next generation of taxpayers. Obama’s expansion of the child tax credit is not nearly as ambitious. Overall, his plan adds up to a lot of forgone revenue without much stimulus to show for it. Senators should push for the tax relief to be better designed.
Yeah, that's right. They don't critique the Obama plan. Instead, they recommend the Republican-devised plan. You know, because Republican tax plans have worked so well in the past.
The next section they rant about is entitled "Stimulus for the Government," which they somehow don't see as economic stimulus at all. But they're wrong, and I'll explain why:
$150 million for the Smithsonian
$34 million to renovate the Department of Commerce headquarters
$500 million for improvement projects for National Institutes of Health facilities
$44 million for repairs to Department of Agriculture headquarters
$350 million for Agriculture Department computers
$88 million to help move the Public Health Service into a new building
$448 million for constructing a new Homeland Security Department headquarters
$600 million to convert the federal auto fleet to hybrids
$450 million for NASA (carve-out for “climate-research missions”)
$600 million for NOAA (carve-out for “climate modeling”)
$1 billion for the Census Bureau
The first thing you'll notice, once again, is the nit-picky nature of the numbers above, in a plan that is closing in on $900 billion, in total. The one thing I do agree with them on is their contention that many of the above items would probably be better off in the regular budget. Only one problem with that; Bush and the Republicans took those items OUT of the "regular budget."
The Smithsonian is a national treasure, and brings in far more money to the Washington DC Metro economy, which includes large swaths of Maryland and Virginia, than the measly $150 million listed above. The tourist economy in the region is worth tens of billions of dollars every year, and the Smithsonian is the cornerstone of that. Have you seen the Department of Commerce building? How about the condition of the government's computer systems? And a billion dollars for climate research? Cancel the goddamn oil industry subsidies, and that's paid for and then some. It's peanuts.
And the Census is exactly how the federal government determines how states get paid, so it's important that the 2010 census is correct. A case could be made that perhaps this belongs in another bill, but the Census Bureau hires a lot of people, and all of that money, too, goes into the economy.
See, all of the above is stimulus, because every single dollar of that will end up in the private sector. Salaries will be spent, materials will be purchased, contracts will be bid on; everyone wins. For anyone to claim that the above is waste is not considering the shape of the economy right now. If the economy was booming, and the government was spending on things that are unnecessary, and borrowing to do so, (as the Republicans did for many years), then they might have a case. Maybe. But the economy's in the crapper, and every dollar is needed.
The next section of this crapfest is probably their most insidious, and you'll see what I mean as you read it. The section is called "Income Transfers," (because all right wingers see "wealth redistribution" in everything) and it includes the following:
$89 billion for Medicaid
$30 billion for COBRA insurance extension
$36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits
$20 billion for food stamps
Noting these items demonstrates an absolutely tin ear as to what is happening economically in this country. Let's see... with unemployment nearly doubling in the last several months (and the numbers for January are due out tomorrow, want to bet that they're not close to 10% already, and climbing?), Why would the government have to spend more on the above? Can you guess?
Well, here's something else to think about. All of the above will keep other people employed. AND INSURED! Think about it. With millions of people now facing the loss of their health insurance, premiums are about to spike. If you don't cover a significant number of those people, we could be looking at family policy premiums of and average $1500 or more per month by the middle of this plan year, next plan year at the latest. That will cause more companies, who are already straining to pay for insurance now, to drop coverage for as many as several million more people. The $30 billion for COBRA goes right into the pockets of the health insurance companies, by the way, which should actually make the Republicans giddy with glee. In fact, I'm thinking they're mostly pissed because they didn't think of it first. Medicaid expansion will be necessary to cover the millions of newly unemployed, who don't even HAVE access to a COBRA.
And again... one more time... why does the right wing have such a problem understanding why unemployment payments and food stamps are actually relatively stabilizing and stimulating for the economy while it recovers. They spend everything they receive, folks; got it? That money goes straight into the economy. Grocery stores and fast food outlets get to stay in business, and keep hiring people, while the rest of the stimulus package goes to work.
And why would they call the above "income transfers," except to put a pig on lipstick? Seriously, by definition, everyone getting most of the above qualifies for them because they have worked and paid taxes for years. This is THEIR tax money we're giving back to them, for Chrissakes! Where did this mentality come from, that we pay taxes every year, but the minute we need to get some of that money back, in the form of services from the government we support, it turns into something akin to theft? If someone qualifies for unemployment, it's because they've been paying unemployment taxes for years, and they qualify to get some of that back. If they qualify for a COBRA, it's because they paid a WHOLE LOT of premiums over the past few years, at least. A COBRA shouldn't even be necessary, frankly; you shouldn't lose health insurance coverage a week or two after you're laid off in the first place. But that's another column.
You want to see what their "fear" is? You'll laugh, I promise. Or you should, anyway...
A big chunk of the stimulus package is designed not to create wealth but to spread it around. It contains $89 billion in Medicaid extensions and $36 billion in expanded unemployment benefits—and this is in addition to the state-budget bailout (see “Rewarding state irresponsibility” below).
The Medicaid extension is structured as a temporary increase in the federal match, but make no mistake: Like many spending increases in the stimulus package, this one has a good chance of becoming permanent. As for extending unemployment benefits through the downturn, it might be a good idea for other reasons, but it wouldn’t stimulate economic growth: It would provide an incentive for job-seekers to delay reentry into the workforce.
Seriously, how stupid are these people? Unemployed people collect because they lost their job through no fault of their own, by definition. And how many people do they think will be satisfied with the $250 or so per week, over the long term. Most people would rather have a job, believe me. How long must we put up with an economy that is oriented to preventing the lowest common denominator from gaming the system? Why is it perfectly okay for bank CEOs to grab a few million in bonuses from the TARP, but not for the working stiff whose account is IN one of those banks to take out some of the money he paid in unemployment taxes over the years?
As for Medicare, um... single payer is coming. Better get used to it.
One of the more ironic sections in this article is the one they title "Pure Pork." It's mostly ironic,because their party has spent the last 14 years since their "revolution" packing more pork onto bills than any party in history. I always thought one of the more valid criticisms Gingrich made in 1994 was that the Democrats tended to pork up their bills a little too much. But the right wing Republicans made even former Pork King Robert Byrd look like a piker. And for the last eight years, the pork was paid for with borrowed money, at a time when the economy was supposedly strong.This time, a case can be made that there is no such thing as "pork," if it provides income to a significant numbet of people. At the very least, our definition of "pork" has to change.
That said, even in a decent economy, that the items below would be considered "pork" is a joke. Yet, these geniuses consider this "pure pork."
$4.5 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
$850 million for Amtrak
$87 million for a polar icebreaking ship
$1.7 billion for the National Park System
$55 million for Historic Preservation Fund
$7.6 billion for “rural community advancement programs”
$150 million for agricultural-commodity purchases
$150 million for “producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish”
But everything else up there actually has an economic purpose, especially the Army Corps of Engineers and Amtrak. The Army Corps of Engineers hires contractors, and works on infrastructure projects that create jobs. As you'll recall, if we had fully funded the Army Corps of Engineers, Hurricane Katrina may not have caused nearly as much damage as it caused in New Orleans. Fully funding them goes to infrastructure, which will be a major part of any economic stimulus, as well it should be. We've neglected Main Street in favor of Wall Street long enough.
Then there's Amtrak. Anyone who has ever taken a train in the increasingly traffic-clogged Northeast corridor knows how important passenger trains are, and how old and worn out the system is becoming. I would also point out that rail is necessary. There is no more efficient way to move people or freight around the country than rail, and the rail system is vital to our national security, and should be treated as such. It is most certainly not "pork." Upkeep of the rail system creates jobs, and if workers have an efficient way to get to work every day, they are more productive.
The National Park system has been neglected since about 1981. The neocons just don't care about it; in fact, they seem to hate it, and find it a nuisance. But that doesn't make the money spent on it "pork." The money will go to restoration and upkeep of the parks, all of which will require contractors and create jobs. Those people will then spend that money in their communities. See how that works? Ditto for Historic Preservation. That work , as well, requires contractors and skilled workers, and will create jobs. Rural Community Advancement programs will actually create an economic stimulus in the poorest areas of the country, and bring an economic shot in the arm to them, which will create jobs, as well. If you think inner cities need help, you should travel out to areas in the Appalachians, which have largely been ignored for decades. The economic shot in the arm will also require workers, allow people to start businesses, and create jobs.
The last two listed, I will have to read up on. But given that all of those producers are vital to the country's food supply, I would hesitate to call those appropriations "pork," out of hand. Agricultural commodity purchases support farmers during rough times, and people will have to be hired to produce and distribute the commodities. And producers of "livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish" are going to have a tough time, and need to be bailed out. And again; the amounts of money we're talking about are not exactly huge, especially in terms of this particular bill.
The next section discussed the clever right wing authors have titled "Renewable Waste." I won't have to spend a lot of time on this; you'll see exactly why they're wrong, and everything they list will actually act as an economic stimulus. They just don't like what is about to happen. Perhaps they don't understand it; who the hell knows? But here's what they cite:
$2 billion for renewable-energy research ($400 million for global-warming research)
$2 billion for a “clean coal” power plant in Illinois
$6.2 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program
$3.5 billion for energy-efficiency and conservation block grants
$3.4 billion for the State Energy Program
$200 million for state and local electric-transport projects
$300 million for energy-efficient-appliance rebate programs
$400 million for hybrid cars for state and local governments
$1 billion for the manufacturing of advanced batteries
$1.5 billion for green-technology loan guarantees
$8 billion for innovative-technology loan-guarantee program
$2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects
$4.5 billion for electricity grid
Every single one of the above will create jobs. In fact, they'll create whole new industries, which is something this country needs desperately. The only potentially stupid appropriation above is the "clean coal" plant, because there really is no such thing, but that's just my opinion; the reality is, even that measure will create jobs. It will create jobs to build it, and to maintain it. Everyone who does research on these issues will be paid, and contributes to the economy. Every single person who weatherizes a home,or works to upgrade the grid will get paid and stimulate the economy. Everyone who installs energy efficient appliances, retrofits a home or a government building gets paid, spends money and supports the economy. Everyone who buys a car, whether it's a hybrid, hydrogen, CNG or gasoline driven, is spending money and supporting the economy. Lilke I said; we're creating whole new industries. Well, we're not actually creating them; the fact is, in almost all of the above, the EU, Japan, and even China are ahead of us, and we need to play catch-up. Playing catch-up will stimulate the economy.
Of course, none of the above would even be necessary if we hadn't spent the last eight years with our heads in the sand, pretending science and global warming don't exist.
That's 49 phony "facts," folks, all torn to shreds. Not one is a "fact;" of course; they're all crap, and we're cutting it. But the last one, number 50, is the biggest load of all, and every governor of every state in the union, including the Republicans, should be pissed at this one. Are you ready? I encourage you to read the whole section, but I'm going to skip to the end:
In sum, this is an $80
billion boondoggle that is going to reward the irresponsible and help
state governments evade a needed reordering of their financial
priorities. And the money has to come from somewhere: At best, we’re
just shifting money around from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, robbing a
relatively prudent Cheyenne to pay an incontinent Albany. If we want
more ants and fewer grasshoppers, let the prodigal governors get a
$79 billion for State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
For eight years, the Bush-led federal government starved states, and cut them off at the knees, while it fed its war machine every dollar it "needed." For eight years, they looked away as financial crooks took over the system and bled it dry. Have the people of California ever gotten their money back from Enron, for example? They handed states unfunded mandates like "No Child Left Behind," at the same time they were taking money from them, based on a singular declaration from an irrational administration, under the guise of "fiscal responsibility." That is a term that has absolutely zero meaning, when it's coming from a neocon's mouth, or pen, or keyboard these days.
States have to deal with the same problems as the federal government when it comes to the economy.; but they can't print and borrow money, like the federal government. That's a fact. Right now, sales tax revenues are way down, and the devaluation of homes has also led to reduced property tax revenues. In what way is this the states' fault, given that it's the federal government's responsibility to regulate the securities and financial services industries, and they are the culprits in this.
And frankly, what the hell right do right wingers who supported Bush for the last eight years have to call any other government body "irresponsible"? Have they forgotten that the reason we need a stimulus package in the first place is because of the Bush Administration's irresponsibility?
That's 50 items that right wingers think will NOT create stimulus, and I have shown how all but a handful actually WILL create jobs, and stimulate the economy.
Stop listening to these people. They lie.