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Studying The Stimulus: What’s Another Trillion At This Point?

Jeff Siegel | Tuesday February 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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I never really expected to see this latest stimulus plan fly through Congress without some serious debate. After all, this is a lot of money we’re talking about here. And this is on top of what’s already been shelled out to failing banks run by CEOs who still don’t seem to understand why it’s not a good idea to offer billions of dollars in bonuses or spend millions to redecorate offices on the taxpayers’ dime. Oh, and also while 3.6 million jobs have been lost since December, 2007.
So needless to say, constructive debate is paramount when we’re about to get stuck with another $1 trillion bar tab. But there’s a fine line between constructive debate and political maneuvering.


Now I’m not saying the Democrats’ plan is perfect. Far from it, really. In fact, the initial draft of the Democrat’s package includes $2.4 billion for carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants. As we’ve written in these pages before, this kind of “clean coal” technology is nothing more than a myth used by the coal industry to greenwash the public. Though we’re certainly not surprised to see the $2.4 billion inclusion. After all, the Democrats raked in close to $1 million in “contributions” in 2008 from the coal mining industry. And it also wasn’t long ago when Democrat, Jeff Bingaman circulated a bill that would offer up to $10 billion in direct government loans for coal-to-liquid plants. There isn’t a damn thing green or responsible about that.
And of course, last week we had the privilege of listening to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell call Obama’s new vehicle program wasteful spending. I’m referring to Obama’s plan to modernize the fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of the latest in fuel efficiency technology. This is something that will actually save the government (the taxpayers) money, help create manufacturing jobs, and light a fire under Detroit to pump these vehicles out – without excuses and foot-dragging.
This is not wasteful spending, or “pork” as McConnell likes to call it. And certainly the Kentucky Senator should know what pork is. After all, he didn’t have a problem pushing $25 million in earmarked funds for BAE, a British defense contractor that was actually under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department at the time. Or what about the $8.3 million earmark for an organization called Voice for Humanity to send pink and silver mp3-style players to Afghanistan? These things contained recordings about womens’ rights and democracy. Apparently McConnell also recommended Voice for Humanity get another $15 million to move into Iran and North Korea. This definitely begs the question: Are you serious?!!!
Of course the two parties have come together on some equally confusing ideas as well. Like the $15,000 tax break for homebuyers that they believe will revitalize the housing industry. In theory, this may sound like a step in the right direction. The only problem is, even with the $15,000 tax break, most of these houses are still too expensive for average Americans to afford.
Take Baltimore City for instance. In north Baltimore, in a section called Hampden, you can buy a three-bedroom home, in a relatively nice neighborhood for $250,000. The only problem is, these homes were going for about $75,000 in 1999. So ten years later, these homes have justifiably increased in value by more than 200 percent? Not a chance. The median income in that area is about $34,000. Based on the old rule of thumb that homes should go for three times the median income, a house in this area should run you around $100,000 – give or take. But thanks to our good friends in Washington who spent years being hypnotized into complacency comas by lobbyists, we now have quarter of a million dollar homes in an area where most folks can barely afford their car payments. And rest assured, it was both Republicans and Democrats that watched this whole debacle unfold – turning a blind eye to both irresponsible lending institutions and irresponsible homebuyers.
Point is, an extra $15,000 is not going to put housing prices within reach of the average, hard-working American. Now I’m not saying I have the answer, but certainly there’s an economic and social disconnect here that desperately needs to be addressed. And until it is, this situation is not going to get any better – with or without a stimulus.
Of course, even with all of its flaws, the stimulus does hit on some very important issues, including energy, infrastructure and education. Jobs will be created, a new energy infrastructure heavily weighted in renewables and efficiency will progress, and our schools will finally get the funding and oversight they’ve so desperately needed for decades. Imagine that!
In the meantime, I suspect Republicans will continue to grasp at straws in an effort to poke holes in anything Obama wants to do, and Democrats will continue to try to rush any kind of legislation through the House, hoping at least half of it sticks before getting called out. But at some point, this economic recovery plan will kick in. And as voters, we must make sure we hold each and every one of these lawmakers accountable, not only for their actions – but for their inactions as well.
Because as Will Rogers once said, “The short memories of American voters is what keeps our politicians in office”


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