The Promise And The Reality (Part II) – Massive Waste, Fraud And Abuse Likely With Passage Of “Stimulus” Bill
The fear-mongering and panic inducing rhetoric used by the Obama administration and Congresional Democrats concerning the “stimulus” bill has set up another probable broken promise – this time on an unimaginably massive scale.
The Promise: The end of wasteful government spending and more accountability:
-Make Government Spending More Accountable and Efficient: Obama and Biden will ensure that federal contracts over $25,000 are competitively bid. Obama and Biden will also increase the efficiency of government programs through better use of technology, stronger management that demands accountability and by leveraging the government’s high-volume purchasing power to get lower prices.
– End Wasteful Government Spending: Obama and Biden will stop funding wasteful, obsolete federal government programs that make no financial sense. Obama and Biden have called for an end to subsidies for oil and gas companies that are enjoying record profits, as well as the elimination of subsidies to the private student loan industry which has repeatedly used unethical business practices. Obama and Biden will also tackle wasteful spending in the Medicare program.
The administration’s promise was transparency, bid competition, and new auditing resources and oversight boards.
The Reality: But this “stimulus” bill will most likely overwhelm any ability to properly monitor the spending anticipated. And, if such proper monitoring and regulating of spending is indeed required, it will drastically slow the spending process which is supposed to provide the stimulus.
The Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan could end up wasting billions of dollars by attempting to spend money faster than an overburdened government acquisition system can manage and oversee it, according to documents and interviews with contracting specialists.
The $827 billion stimulus legislation under debate in Congress includes provisions aimed at ensuring oversight of the massive infusion of contracts, state grants and other measures. At the urging of the administration, those provisions call for transparency, bid competition, and new auditing resources and oversight boards.
But under the terms of the stimulus proposals, a depleted contracting workforce would be asked to spend more money more rapidly than ever before, while also improving competition and oversight. Auditors would be asked to track surges in spending on projects ranging from bridge construction and schools to research of “green” energy and the development of electronic health records — a challenge made more difficult because many contracts would be awarded by state agencies.
The stimulus plan presents a stark choice: The government can spend unprecedented amounts of money quickly in an effort to jump-start the economy or it can move more deliberately to thwart the cost overruns common to federal contracts in recent years.
“You can’t have both,” said Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center who studied crisis spending in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “There is no way to get around having to make a choice.”
So here’s the choice – remove the oversight, drop the transparancy, go with “no-bid” contracts and eschew the auditing process which will slow the spending to a trickle, or keep them in place and accept the molasses slow flow of supposed stimulus funds.
The probability is we’ll see the promise go by the boards. Why? Because of the insistence by both Congressional leaders and the administration that this bill be passed now, that it can’t wait and that it shouldn’t be debated (and by implication, shouldn’t be closely examined either).
“We don’t have the means to make sure we don’t blow through billions of dollars and give it to the wrong people,” said Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We’re on track to lose billions, if not tens of billions, to waste, fraud and abuse.”
Goodger said the federal contracting system has been extremely troubled in recent years. He emphasized the lack of trained employees to manage contracts, which he called a “human capital crisis.”
Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a group that represents government contractors, does not oppose the stimulus package. But he said the government appears to lack the planning and the “infrastructure and architecture” upfront to manage the spending.
“Without it,” he said, “we’re going to have a repeat of what we’ve seen over and over and over, from major weapons systems to Katrina and Iraq.”
Hope and change.
If you harbored any doubt about the real purpose of the recent S-CHIP bill which expanded government health care, these excerpts should remove it:
Obama at a White House signing ceremony said, “I refuse to accept that millions of our children fail to reach their full potential because we fail to meet their basic needs” (Pulizzi/Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 2/4). He added, “In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiation, and health care for our children is one of those obligations” (Mussenden, Media General News/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/5). He said, “The way I see it, providing coverage to 11 million children [through SCHIP] is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American” (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 2/5). He continued, “It is just one component of a much broader effort to finally bring our health care system into the 21st century,” adding, “I am confident that, if we work together, if we come together, we can finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for and fulfill the promise of health care in our time” (Washington Times, 2/5).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “This is the beginning of the change that the American people voted for in the last election and that we will achieve with President Obama” (Los Angeles Times, 2/5). Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said, “I cannot think of a better investment than the health of our children” (Graham, “Triage,” Chicago Tribune, 2/4). Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said, “We’ve waited far too long for this day. America’s kids should be guaranteed comprehensive care whether they need dental care, mental health, medical or surgical treatment” (Rhee, “Political Intelligence,” Boston Globe, 2/4). House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, “While this bill is short of our ultimate goal of health reform, it is a down payment, and is an essential start” (New York Times, 2/5).
Keep your eye on the ball because this is moving very, very quickly.
Mr. Obama called Ms. Collins and Mr. Specter, as well as Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, another Republican expected to support the deal, to acknowledge they were acting against pressure from their party and, one official said, to thank them for their patriotism in helping advance the bill at a critical time.
So the man who bristled at any questioning of his patriotism now implies that those who won’t vote for this monstrosity of a bill are unpatriotic? I told you that dissent would become unpatriotic.
Hope and change.
For the Washington Post, it only takes 3 Republicans (out of approx 218 Congressional Republicans) to declare the “stimulus” bill to be a “bi-partisan” achievement.
As I said yesterday, and the WaPo article validates, those three who will vote for this give the veneer of bi-partisan legitimacy to the bill and something the left and its fellow travelers will use to give them cover.
Calling this bill “bi-partisan” is like calling Andrew Sullivan’s obsession with Sarah Pallin “rational”. But WaPo dutifully tries to frame the narrative:
The bipartisan deal was cut after two days of talks and would cut more than $100 billion from the $920 billion bill, dropping its cost to about $820 billion, if amendments added on the Senate floor are retained.
Of course the key phrase in that sentence is “if amendments added on the Senate floor are retained“. The bill must now be negotiated with the House and all of that which was cut may very well end up back in there. As Carl Cameron pointed out last night, you might expect bills with similar totals to be an easily negotiated, but that’s not the case. Different programs make up the amounts in each bill, and historically these negotiations haven’t lowered the totals for the final bill, but, instead, increased them – sometimes dramatically. And it is certainly possible those amendments added by Republicans could be discarded.
If that happens, and it is entirely possible, what will the three RINOs do then?
Well there’s an agreement on the Generational Theft Act of 2009. The squishy middle has capitulated.
As expected, just enough Republicans have signed on to ensure its passage. Names?
Specter said Friday night that action was “very necessary,” and this bill, though not perfect, is better than inaction.
“I think no one could argue with the fact that the situation would be much worse without this bill,” Specter said at a news conference.
And of course, Susan Collins is the other (and Olympia Snowe is also reportedly going to vote for it). Voinavich and Martinez bailed. They’ll give this the veneer of bi-partisan legitimacy.
Oh, and the Senate has reportedly gotten the bill down to a miserly $780 to 805 billion depending on who you listen too.
Nancy Pelosi isn’t happy with the cuts:
“These cuts are very damaging — [the House bill] was put together very carefully. … The funding goes directly to school districts, they are stimulative because they maintain jobs instead of cutting jobs.”
If you believe the House bill was put together “very carefully”, then you will believe 500,000,000 Americans are losing their jobs every month.
But, even with the 3 Republicans, this monstrosity is all Democrat.
As an aside, our recent QandO poll asked which Senator was most likely to break for the bill. In that poll, Olympia Snow won with 33%. Interestingly, John McCain came in second at 29%. Specter came in third with 14%. Surprisingly, Susan Collins came in 4th with 7%.
It’s been interesting to watch the left attempt to paint the right as obsessive about tax-cuts, to the exclusion of any other method of stimulating the economy. Josh Marshall called it “tax cut monomania”. Of course careful readers who’ve followed this debate know that’s absolute nonsense. The Republicans have bought into the premise that some level of government spending is necessary, except that it should be tightly targeted and provide immediate stiumlus.
Instead they’re faced with this bloated piece of garbage legislation derisively called the “2009 Spend Your Grand Children and Great Grand Children into Debt bill”.
I noted Marshall’s appeal to authority (the sacred macroeconomic texts) yesterday and his claim that macroeconomists couldn’t exactly run controlled experiments to prove their point. But upon reflection, I thought, that’s not precisely true. While it may not fit the classic definition of a “controlled experiment”, Japan’s 2 decade long struggle to revive its economy is about as close as we’re going to get.
And you know what – the lessons learned from that say we’re about to commit the same mistakes they did. President Obama claimed, last night, that spending on infrastructure was the way to go – that it would create jobs and stimulate the economy. But Japan spent $6.3 trillion on construction-related public investment between 1991 and September of last year, and it did nothing of the sort. Nope, paving over Japan accomplished little in terms of stimulating a down economy.
In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations.
In the United States, it has also led to calls in Congress, particularly by Republicans, not to repeat the errors of Japan’s failed economic stimulus. They argue that it makes more sense to cut taxes, and let people decide how to spend their own money, than for the government to decide how to invest public funds. Japan put more emphasis on increased spending than tax cuts during its slump, but ultimately did reduce consumption taxes to encourage consumer spending as well.
Trade and tax cuts along with spending targeted at banking system was how Japan finally pulled out of its doldrums. We already have 700 billion aimed at our banking system, with only half of it spent. That leaves what, if you’re interested in not repeating the mistakes of an economy which has already gone thorugh this sort of thing?
Well it’s certainly not a huge NRA style spending spreed on public works. Japan spent trillions on public works and infrastructure and it didn’t do what all the economists said it would do. Instead Targeted spending on the banking system, tax cuts and the development of trade turned the tide.
Given the present bill it appears we’re going to “Buy American”, refuse tax cuts and spend hundreds of billions on roads and bridges. The Republicans objections to this mammoth pork and relief fest have nothing to do with “tax cut monomania”. It has much more to do with understanding the lessons learned from the Japanese experience and not wanting to repeat them. Democrats, in their arrogance, seem to believe that they can do the same thing as Japan but have a different outcome.
Well, after Democratic assurances that the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t something they planned to pursue, Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow muddied those waters again. Appearing on the Bill Press Show she had this to say:
BILL PRESS: Yeah, I mean, look: They have a right to say that. They’ve got a right to express that. But, they should not be the only voices heard. So, is it time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine?
SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else — I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves. I mean, our new president has talked rightly about accountability and transparency. You know, that we all have to step up and be responsible. And, I think in this case, there needs to be some accountability and standards put in place.
BILL PRESS: Can we count on you to push for some hearings in the United States Senate this year, to bring these owners in and hold them accountable?
SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): I have already had some discussions with colleagues and, you know, I feel like that’s gonna happen. Yep.
Really. “Accountability”? What sort of “accountability” is Sen. Stabenow talking about?
What she means is she’d like to see the bane of the Democrats, the one venue that regularly frustrates their efforts, out of business or seriously handicaped.
The arguments for the previous Fairness Doctrine were pitifully inadequate and certainly an infringement of free speech, but radio was a dominant medium at the time and that’s how supporters justified their attempted control of what could or couldn’t be said.
Now, however, even those marginal arguments are obsolete. The choices of media have expanded exponentially. The internet has changed the whole game. To pretend that “standards” and “accountability” must be imposed on a very small part of this media spectrum while ignoring the rest is laughable.
So this comes down to power and control. And it requires a willingness to ignore the tenets of liberty and heritage of free speech embodied in the Constitution. I have no doubt that Democrats are more than willing to do exactly that in their effort to consolidate their power.
If you recall, all of us here at QandO had a rough time understanding how the government was going to pay for something when it didn’t know the value when it announced it was going to buy distressed bank assets.
Common sense says you don’t buy something on the way down, but instead wait for it to bottom out before jumping in. As we’re now learning, the government lost between 64 and 78 billion dollars when it doled out that first quarter of a trillion dollars:
According to the testimony of Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, who is chairing the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP, Treasury doled out $254 billion for bank assets worth only $176 billion – an overpayment of $78 billion of taxpayer funds. She has also noted that Treasury has not cited any reason for the overpayment. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s independent estimate released a month ago, Treasury overpaid $64 billion.
This is the same institution that now is going to spend 900 billion of borrowed, taxed or printed money. Apparently everyone who is for doing that believe the outcome will be different this time.
Stephen Spruiell and Kevin Williamson over at NRO have put an excellent “stimulus package” summary together.
I’m going to give you an condensed summary from their work. Make sure you read the whole thing.
$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”
POORLY DESIGNED TAX RELIEF
$15 billion for business-loss carry-backs
$145 billion for “Making Work Pay” tax credits
$83 billion for the earned income credit
STIMULUS FOR THE GOVERNMENT
$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
$89 billion for Medicaid
$30 billion for COBRA insurance extension
$36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits
$20 billion for food stamps
$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”
$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
REWARDING STATE IRRESPONSIBILITY
$79 billion for State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
You add it up. Estimates say that only 17% of these funds would be spent in the first year.
No – pork and relief.
Dean Baker at American Prospect has an uninformed hissy fit over the amendment GA Sen Johnny Isakson offered to the pork, er stimulus bill. The amendment gives a $15,000 tax credit to those buying a principle residence – note that, principle residence – next year. Baker is sure it is the house flipper’s amendment.
And this is before we get to any gaming. It’s hard to see why tens of millions of people wouldn’t figure out a way to buy a house from a friend or relative and get their $15k. If we can get one-third of the country’s homes to change hands (lots of jobs for realtors) that would be good for $375 billion.
It would have been helpful if reporters had talked to an analyst who could have explained these points for readers.
As much as I criticize the media, someone needs to tell Baker that this information is being and has been reported (I heard it explained when the amendment was first discussed). Below is one example:
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved an amendment to the economic stimulus bill by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that gives a $15,000 tax credit to anyone who buys a home in the next year.
Isakson’s amendment would provide a direct tax credit to any homebuyer who buys any home. The amount of the tax credit would be $15,000 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is less. Purchases must be made within one year of the legislation’s enactment, and the tax credit would not have to be repaid.
The amendment would allow taxpayers to claim the credit on their 2008 income tax return. It also seeks to prevent misuse by only allowing purchases of a principle residence and by recapturing the credit if the home is sold within two years of purchase.
Pretty clear to me.
That dispensed with, here’s the real reason the left is so up in arms with this amendment:
Somehow, Isakson has this thing costing just $19 billion. Let’s break the Washington rules and try a little arithmetic. Even with weakness in the housing market, it is still virtually certain
that we will sell close to 5 million homes in 2009. The overwhelming majority would qualify for the full credit. So, we get 5 million times $15,000. That sounds a lot like $75 billion.
That’s right – this would put more money in people’s pockets and make less available for the government to spend on dog parks and Frisbee golf courses.
But the ultimate real world cost of this measure has been disputed, with some critics predicting that it would cost much more, given the expected levels of housing sales this year.
Turns out the critics may have been right. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has just sent a letter to Chuck Schumer, who’s on the Finance Committee, responding to Schumer’s request that the Committee score an estimate of the measure’s cost.
The total price estimated by the Committee? $35.5 billion — double the original cost, says the letter, which was sent our way by Schumer’s staff.
That’s kind of a big deal, and could actually alter the ultimate cost of the overall bill, potentially creating more complications as this gargantuan measure lurches fitfully towards passage.
Anyone – do you believe that all of the estimates contained in this “gargantuan measure” are dead on? That, among 900 billion of government spending, there will be no cost overruns, budget overruns or cost underestimates?
The problem, as stated, is it “costs” the government by putting money precisely where it belongs – in the pockets of the citizens.
And that’s because most of them believe, as Robert Reich does, that government is the only answer:
Regardless of your ideological stripe, you’ve got to see that when consumers and businesses stop spending and investing, there’s only entity left to step into the breach. It’s government. Major increases in government spending are necessary, and the spending must be on a very large scale.
Notice the smuggled premise – that consumer and business spending can’t be spurred by any other means than government spending. Of course that’s nonsense. And the Isakson amendment is one of many ways that can be done. Other obvious means would be a withholding tax cut (or suspension). That’s an instant stimulus.
The CBO says the debt being incurred through this bill will crowd out private investment over the coming years. The key to recovery is private investment which leads to business expansion which leads to jobs.
What part of that don’t the Democrats understand?
Well, if you read Joshua Holland, most of it:
And the GOP’s approach is based on the theory that a “rising tide will lift all boats.” A simple question: how’s that theory been workin’ out for ya?
Mr. Holland, look around you and how you and others live. Then take a trip to, oh, I don’t know, China. Tell us how those boats floated in the past as compared to how they’re floating now. Or India. Or Poland. Or the Czech Republic. Etc.