Apparently history began for Andrew Sullivan on January 20th of this year:
This much is now clear. Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are. And the mountain of partisan vitriol Obama will have to climb every day of the next four or eight years.
Obviously Sullivan can’t think of “legitimate debates to be had” concerning this awful bill (just turn toward the White House, bow and sign). And you have to assume that he doesn’t consider putting this bill together without letting the Republicans participate as a party (not as the ‘picked off three’) a cynical declaration of “total political war”. In fact you have to wonder when he began paying attention to “mountains of partisan vitriol” that presidents have to climb over every day.
Andy, when the opposition party “war” dedicated to undermining a presidency and causing it to fail even approaches that which the Democrats waged against George Bush for the last 8 years, I’ll be first to let you know. In the meantime, quit whining for heaven sake. This ain’t bean bag.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan responds to my points about “legitimate debates” and Republican inclusion:
You mean Obama never went to the Congress to talk to the House GOP? That he hasn’t been relentless in including Republicans in the debate? That he didn’t urge over $300 billion in tax cuts in the bill to assuage Republican feelings in the first place?
Of course going to Congress to talk with the House GOP turned out to be more for show than substance. It was made clear, afterward, that while he was polite and at least pretended to listen, little if any of what they asked for ended up in the bill. One reason that’s so is the bill was written by Democrats in Congress, not Barack Obama. If it had been written by Obama and his administration, Sullivan might have a leg to stand on. But obviously his “relentless inclusion” attempt was ignored by the Democratic Congressional leadership and the GOP was shut out of the process to craft the bill.
Concerning tax cuts, as we’ve pointed out here any number of times, transfer payments my be called tax cuts just like a pile of dog feces may be called a rose, but by any other name, they’re still just welfare checks. Those aren’t the tax cuts the GOP asked for and certainly not what the GOP would support.
As the details of the compromise stimulus package come out, most will find plenty to not like.
For instance, those stimulative tax cuts for 95% of Americans:
Q: What are some of the tax breaks in the bill?
A: It includes Obama’s signature “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 95 percent of workers, though negotiators agreed to trim the credit to $400 a year instead of $500 — or $800 for married couples, cut from Obama’s original proposal of $1,000. It would begin showing up in most workers’ paychecks in June as an extra $13 a week in take-home pay, falling to about $8 a week next January.
$13 bucks a week for 6 months, down to $8 bucks a week by January. $338 in ’09, and, if it stays in place for all of ’10, $416.
Wow. 800 billion of your dollars and in the next year and a half you’re going to see $754 of it. Go make that down payment on the new house or car now!
Now, here’s the rope-a-dope:
Q: How will infrastructure spending affect jobs?
A: The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion the federal government spends on infrastructure projects translates to 35,000 jobs. Collins put the total infrastructure spending — including highways, mass transit, environmental cleanups and broadband facilities — at $150 billion. Do the math and that translates into more than 5 million jobs, based on the highway administration’s assumptions.
Senate leaders have offered their own estimate — they said Wednesday that the total stimulus package will sustain some 3.5 million jobs.
Most of that work will go to people who already have jobs. And those who are hired will be hired on a temporary basis. When the revenue stream for that job ends, so will the temporary jobs.
And one other thing to keep in mind – these people are estimating based on nothing more than some assumptions they’ve decided look rosy and fit their narrative. They have no freakin’ idea how many jobs, if any, their spending will bring.
Q: How long would it take for highway projects to begin?
A: Lawmakers say most of the projects could be up and running within 90 days, although it could take somewhat more time in northern states with longer winters. Highway construction groups have estimated that there are thousands of projects that could be started within that 90 days.
Here’s a dirty little secret about this answer – projects that are 90 days from beginning have most likely already been funded and those who are going to work on them have been hired.
All the rest of the projects in the bill will have to go through the normal years long bidding process that is required by government. So “shovel ready” does not necessarily mean an infusion of new cash or jobs.
Q: Does the bill include federal aid to the states?
A: Yes. It includes major contributions to states to help with their budget shortfalls and assure the viability of Medicaid and education programs.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the moderate Republican who helped broker the deal, said the spending includes about $90 billion in increased federal matches to states to help pay for Medicaid, along with a $54 billion “fiscal stabilization” fund that states could use to build and repair schools and improve facilities at institutions of higher learning.
This bill is the “State Fiscal Mismanagement Bailout Bill” which rewards states for budget busting.
Tell me, in life, what is one of the major means of changing behavior?
Pain. No pain, nothing learned. Be it emotional, physical or financial pain, unless you suffer it, you have no reason to change your behavior. Given this bill, profligate state governments have no reason to change their spendthrift ways.
BTW, none of that spending will stimulate anything but more government.
Q: What are some of the other main focuses of the bill?
A: Here are some highlights:
Education: The package has some $11.5 billion to support the IDEA program for special education. There’s another $10 billion for a federal program to help low-income students.
Energy: The package includes funds to modernize the electrical grid — in part by incorporating renewable energy resources — and to make federal buildings more energy efficient and help low-income households weatherize their homes.
Health: The plan includes subsidies to allow people who are laid off to purchase health insurance through the federal COBRA plan. There is also money to support hospitals seeking to modernize health information technology.
Infrastructure: The infrastructure section of the package includes funds for building and repairing highways and bridges, expanding transit systems, upgrading airports and rail systems and building and repairing federal buildings — with the focus on making them more energy efficient. Funds are available for clean water projects, cleanup of environmental waste areas and nuclear waste cleanups.
Nothing listed here is stimulative. Nothing. This is all the pork that everyone has denied is in the bill. This is the left’s shopping list of the last 40 years rolled into one big raid on your wallet.
And what about the engine of productivity, the creator of jobs and wealth? Not much at all:
From auto dealers to the home-building industry, big business appears to be the biggest loser in the final economic stimulus plan being pieced together Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Negotiators from the House and Senate sliced billions of dollars in tax incentives for businesses and slashed huge tax breaks for consumers that were strongly backed by industry lobbyists.
Many of the business tax provisions were added to the stimulus legislation in the Senate in an effort to attract Republican votes. President Barack Obama wants bipartisan support for the plan and was dealt a setback when no Republicans voted for the House version of the plan two weeks ago.
But when only three Republican senators voted for the Senate version of the bill Tuesday, Democrats slashed the business tax proposals in an effort to bring the total cost of the bill under $789 billion.
That’s right, Democratic spite and their propensity toward government as the solution have mostly driven tax breaks for business, the one sector that can, in fact, create real jobs that produce wealth, out of the bill.
Tthe Democrats like to use the term “trickle down” derisively, but as Karl Rove notes, you’re about to see their version of it. The difference is the money will “trickle down” through the government filter. Any guess as to how much will actually reach down to where it is needed?
Well, don’t bet that whopping $754 bucks you’ll be seeing over the next year and a half that it will do any good. Instead you might consider buying gold with it, since my guess is it isn’t going to be worth $754 when the Democrats get done with screwing around with the economy.
I have to admit I’m surprised that the bill that came out of markup was smaller than either the House or Senate version of the bill. That’s a true rarity. If it wasn’t such a bad bill, I’d have to complement the three Republican Senators who helped negotiate it. It speaks to how badly the Democrats want to be able to say “bi-partisan” when they talk about it. It won’t fly of course, but it does demonstrate the point.
“I’m all for bipartisanship, but I don’t consider three Republican senators bipartisan,” said Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who oversees economic recovery issues for the CBC. “Let’s not deny who we are legislatively for three senators.”
But they have to deny it if you can believe a 790 billion dollar bill denies much of anything. Are we so numbed to the numbers that some think that what these people came up with is a significant savings? Do we not understand what 1.2 trillion (including interest) means?
Of course “progressives” are very unhappy with the final bill:
Some House Democrats are working furiously to reinstate funds the Senate cut from an $789 billion economic stimulus package speeding to the floor this week.
In particular, progressive Democrats and members of the Congressional Black Caucus would like to see more money for social spending programs that was cut from the Senate package over the weekend in a deal with three moderate Republican senators. It’s not clear if they will get all their wishes, but the deal announced this afternoon will be finalized in the coming hours.
The CBC sent House negotiators a letter Wednesday asking them to add an additional $4.2 billion for the federal government to lend states money to acquire foreclosed homes, another $4 billion for job-training programs and $14 billion for school construction.
Question: Does anyone think any of the Democratic leadership cares one whit what the CBC wants put back in there? Furthermore, does anyone think the CBC won’t vote for this if they don’t get their way?
Nope – three Republican Senators and the ability to say “bi-partisan”, no matter how thin it sounds, is far more valuable to the Dems than the CBC. And not for the first time.
Do Americans support the stimulus bill proposed by Congress, or hate it? The only way to glean a credible answer is by looking to reliable polls. Bruce did that earlier with respect to the ATI-News/Zogby poll which found that:
Amidst all the rhetoric surrounding President Barack Obama’s first signature piece of legislation, a massive $800 billion economic “stimulus” bill, one thing is clear: a majority of Americans reject the President’s handiwork. A just-released ATI-News/Zogby International poll shows that clear majorities of Republicans and Independents are against it.
Public support for an $800 billion economic stimulus package has increased to 59% in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Tuesday night, up from 52% in Gallup polling a week ago, as well as in late January.
So which is it? Is support up or down? Frankly, I don’t think we can really tell. Here’s why.
Both polls reveal the number of people questioned, and break down the results by party affiliation (although the ATI-News commissioned poll did not provide any numbers for Democrats). However, neither poll details how many participants of each party were polled, and/or whether the results were weighted. In short, if the ATI-News poll included substantially more Republicans and Republican leaning people among the 7,010 voters questioned, then the results should predictably skew towards the Republican side of the issue. Similarly, if there were significant number of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents among those 1,021 national adults polled by the USA Today poll, then we should expect that poll to favor the Democratic side.
Because we aren’t informed as to the breakdown of the total by party affiliation, we really can’t say how reflective the polls are of the country as a whole. Seeing as how the polls contradict one another, it’s safe to say that neither one accomplishes that task.
It’s tempting to conclude that, since the ATI-News poll was conducted over 5 days, as opposed to one, and interviewed almost 7 times as many people as the USA Today poll, the larger sample provides a more accurate picture. Moreover, the poll showing that the public is against the stimulus bill claims a margin of error (+/- 1.2%) that is far lower than the other poll (+/- 3.5%). Yet, the confidence interval for the latter poll is 95% and none is given for the ATI-News offering. If it was only 90%, I think (but could be wrong) that makes the USA Today poll slightly more accurate. In addition, without knowing how many answers came from each party (D/R/I), it’s impossible to say just how representative the poll actually is.
By the same token, the USA Today poll appears to offer a more comprehensive look at those questioned, and the questions asked seem less likely to evoke biased answers. For example, the main USA Today poll question was this:
As you may know, Congress is considering a new economic stimulus package of at least $800 billion. Do you favor or oppose Congress passing this legislation?
Compare that question to the following:
Most Republicans oppose the currently proposed stimulus bill supported by President Obama because they say there is too much money being spent for non-stimulus items. Do you agree or disagree that too much money is being spent on items that won’t improve the economy?
The first question above is simple, straightforward, and doesn’t present any potential bias words with respect to the issue. The second, however, sets up a premise, attaches “Republican” to it, and then asks for agree or disagree. Not surprisingly, the second question elicited a much stronger response from Republicans (93% agreed) and Independents (66%) than the first (56% Independents; 28% Republicans). Perhaps then the USA Today poll, despite its small sample, is the more accurate?
Once again, we don’t know how many of each party were questioned. If it was overwhelmingly Democratic Party leaners, then the results would have to be expected. In addition, the USA Today poll questioned all adults, while the ATI-News poll only queried voters, whom one might assume are somewhat better informed. Finally, the fact that any poll of voters could find a string correlation between the words “agree” and “Republicans” suggests that the wording was not causing any undue bias (unless, of course, it was mostly Republicans interviewed, which is pretty unlikely).
In the end, I don’t know how to view these two contradictory polls in a way that sheds any light on how the populace is actually feeling about the stimulus bill. Other than the glaring fact that Democrats overwhelmingly favor its passage, while Republicans do not, there is nothing definitive to be learned. I do agree with Bruce’s assessment that Independents are the best to look for answers, however the poll numbers we have don’t seem to match up.
I guess its possible that the a majority of people are ambivalent about the stimulus bill — yeah it’ll probably be a big screw up, but we have to do something, don’t we? — which would explain some of the apparent contradiction. And maybe Obama’s sales job made the difference in the numbers (the ATI-News poll ended on the 9th, while the USA Today poll was taken on the 10th).
Whatever the reason for the contradiction, I think it’s interesting that each day we have a different poll telling us that the public loves/hates the stimulus package, yet we never see any polls testing the public’s knowledge of what’s in the bill (much less anyone in Congress). Maybe if people were better informed about the contents of the legislation we see more consistent polling. Instead of constantly reading polls asking if the Republicans are right or wrong, or if $800 billion is a good number to spend, perhaps we’d learn more about what the public really thinks if we asked them how stimulated they would be by $4.2 billion for “neighborhood stabilization activities,” or $34 million to renovate the Department of Commerce headquarters, or $88 million to help move the Public Health Service into a new building, or $55 million for Historic Preservation Fund, or $6.2 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program, or $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. Now there’s a poll I’d like to see.
The rent-seekers find another ally:
BILL PRESS: …And, thanks for your leadership, thanks for your good work, it’s great to have you there Senator. And, great to have you on the show. Appreciate it.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Well, anytime – just let me know Bill. I love being with you, and thanks again for all you do to get the truth and the facts out there. By the way, I read your Op-Ed in the Washington Post the other day. I ripped it out, I took it into my office and said ‘there you go, we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again.’
BILL PRESS: Alright, well good for you. You know, we gotta work on that, because they are just shutting down progressive talk from one city after another. All we want is, you know, some balance on the airwaves, that’s all. You know, we’re not going to take any of the conservative voices off the airwaves, but just make sure that there are a few progressives and liberals out there, right?
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Exactly, and that’s why we need the fair—that’s why we need the Fairness Doctrine back.
BILL PRESS: We’ll work on that together. Hey, thanks, Senator! Always good to talk to you.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Thanks Bill, see you, bye.
BILL PRESS: There it is – you heard it here on the Bill Press Show. Senator Tom Harkin: bring back the Fairness Doctrine!
If you can’t make it on your own merit, get the government to step in and grant you what you haven’t earned.
Good work there, Billy.
Perception is reality in politics. I’m not sure how many times we’ve made that point on this blog. And the perception among those out in flyover country is the stimulus package being pushed by the Democrats is a turkey. Or a pig. Or both. Regardless of which animal reference you choose to use, the fact is most Americans don’t think it will work. As further proof of that point, take a look at the latest ATI-News/Zogby results:
Question #1: ATI-News/Zogby asked likely voters, “Some people say that the nearly one trillion dollars in debt and subsequent interest incurred by the stimulus bill during an economic downturn will make the recovery hard to achieve. Do you agree or disagree?”
Overall, 53 percent of Americans agree that the Obama stimulus bill will actually hinder economic recovery; while only 31 percent disagree (16 percent are not sure). Fifty-six percent of Independent voters also agree, while only 27 percent disagree (17 percent are not sure). A staggering 88 percent of Republicans agree and just 6 percent disagree (another 6 percent are not sure).
Frankly, when looking at these polls, I expect the majority of Democrats polled to support Democratic policy and the majority of Republicans not to support it. I key on self-identified independents who have the luxury of going whichever way they choose to go on each policy question. And in the case of this issue, independents are not at all impressed with it. So while President Obama’s personal approval ratings remain high (and that should come as no real surprise this early in his presidency), he’s not been able to convincingly sell this mess to a majority of Americans.
Question #2: ATI-News/Zogby asked voters, “Some Republicans say the Obama stimulus package spends too much and stimulates too little. Do you agree or disagree?”
Fifty-seven percent of Independent voters agree that Obama’s stimulus package spends too much and does little to stimulate the economy; while just 31 percent of Independents disagree (12 percent are not sure). Eighty-nine percent of Republicans also agree, while only 5 percent disagree (6 percent are not sure).
Of importance here is a majority of independents are agreeing with Republicans on the issue. That lays the responsiblity for the bill squarely in the lap of the Democrats. Of course that’s a double-edged sword for Republicans on the off chance this bill somehow succeeds. But if I were giving odds, I’d go 80/20 against.
Question #3: ATI-News/Zogby asked voters, “Most Republicans oppose the currently proposed stimulus bill supported by President Obama because they say there is too much money being spent for non-stimulus items. Do you agree or disagree that too much money is being spent on items that won’t improve the economy?”
Sixty-six percent of Independent voters think Obama wants to spend too much money on items that won’t improve the economy. As for Republicans, a staggering 93 percent agree.
Across the board, the poll found that, on average, 90 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Independents disapprove of Obama’s stimulus bill.
The answer to this particular question shows the sharpest split and the largest majority of independents against the Obama bill. That sort of percentage means despite all the TV appearances, town hall meetings and press conferences, the message Obama has been putting out there has been rejected.
That means that Republicans have been at least partially successful in framing the debate. Of course they’ve been helped by the common sense argument that you can’t cure a problem brought on by borrowing and spending with more massive borrowing and spending. Somewhere, as the public knows and many have experienced, we have to pay up. The public has also had enough experience with government programs to know they’re never speedy, they’re wasteful and they’re poorly monitored. My guess is what you see reflected in those independent numbers is a healthy dose of both skepticism and mistrust.
As the details of this bill have become public, the claim that there’s ‘no pork’ in it has been resoundingly rejected. The spin has not been effective and the public perceives this all as “business as usual” among Congress and Democrats. And it also isn’t helping the Obama image. Many now think he got rolled by Democratic leaders in Congress and, instead of displaying leadership, is now their front-guy trying to leverage his popularity into a win for this massive mess of a bill.
I still think the bill will pass in some form or fashion. But one thing I think is certain. Obama’s honeymoon was a short one and is now over. And I’m also of the opinion that he’ll never again be trusted by independents as the agent for “hope” and “change” in Washington DC. To them, in the future, those will be “just words”.
My favorite line from the other night’s Obama presser:
Now, just in terms of the historic record here, the Republicans were brought in early and were consulted. And you’ll remember that when we initially introduced our framework, they were pleasantly surprised and complimentary about the tax cuts that were presented in that framework. Those tax cuts are still in there. I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some, and then let them take credit for all of them. And maybe that’s the lesson I learned.
Maybe that is a lesson he’s learned. Always nice to see your chief executive engaged in on-the-job training, no?
But more importantly, I enjoyed the spin. “Republicans were brought in early and were consulted”. That’s a bit of a stretch. In actuality the Republicans and Democrats were in agreement that government had to do something. And they were further in agreement with the broad outline of a stimulus package that would include a large percentage of tax cuts.
Now whether or not you agree that a stimulus package is needed or not, the point to be made here is a bunch of politicians from different sides agreeing that something must be done and one of them being pleased that the other side is considering tax cuts as a major part of that “something” does not equal being “brought in early” or being “consulted”.
That happens when the bill is written and put into final form, and as everyone know, Republicans weren’t brought in at all on that process, much less consulted. So when that final bill was trotted out and placed before the full House, with no debate, Republican voted 177-0 against it. They did so for a number of reasons, but primary among them was they had had no part in writing the bill. But of equal importance, the tax cuts that they were promised would be in the bill and comprise approximately 40% of it total, just weren’t there.
Oh the Democrats had used language to attempt to convince the Republicans and the press they were in there, but the CBO pretty well killed that meme. Look on the huge graphic which lays out the spending proposed by the House and check out the upper right hand corner where the CBO discusses the tax cuts. Its analysis reduces the Democratic claim that the bill contains 26% tax cuts down to 22%. The primary reason the CBO denies what Democrats call tax cuts is because in reality they’re tranfer payments. Approximately 100 billion dollars will go to people who don’t pay taxes in the first place. Other than among Democrats, no other rational person would call giving money to people who don’t pay taxes a “tax cut”.
So when you hear President Obama say that the framework he outlined (which supposedly contained 40% tax cuts) was met with Republican approval, he’s probably right. But when he then says, referring to those tax cuts, “they’re still in there”, he’s wrong and my guess is he knows that. But as was obvious in the press conference, he was interested in characterizing the Republcians in a negative light, again mocking them and denigrating them, while at the same time speaking out of the other side of his mouth with faint praise to escape criticism for doing so.
That is not how I define “acting presidential”.
The fact remains the level of the promised tax cuts are not in the House version of the bill. And while it is somewhat closer in the Senate bill, the reconciliation process may lower that as well. Without the level of promised tax cuts in the bill which passes out of the reconciliation process, Republicans cannot be faulted for voting against its passage. Again, that’s not to say I support a single bit of this – but I cannot fault the Republicans for not voting for it if what they were promised initially isn’t in the final bill.
Well while you consider that, this from a Jake Tapper story today:
The Obama Administration today announced that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc..
The case involves five men who claim to have been victims of extraordinary rendition — including current Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, another plaintiff in jail in Egypt, one in jail in Morocco, and two now free. They sued a San Jose Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, accusing the flight-planning company of aiding the CIA in flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured.
That’s sure to disappoint the Economist which, in a gushing editorial written a couple of days after Obama’s electoral victory said:
America will certainly change under Mr Obama; the world of extraordinary rendition and licensed torture should thankfully soon be gone.
And, as with most things, this is sure to surprise some liberal blogs who recently assured themselves that the Obama administration wasn’t going to support extraordinary rendition. After claiming the LA Times got punked they soothed themselves into believing that if the CIA isn’t operating the facility then there’s no harm or no foul. If it is a foreign intelligence service operating the facility in a foreign land to which the CIA turns over prisoners, well, then, that’s just not the same thing, you see. But, of course, it’s simply a different shade of gray, isn’t it?
BTW, I believe the questioning of Leon Panetta should have disabused our liberal friends who claim the Bush administration’s use of rendition is any different than the Obama administrations use of that belief.
Should any doubt remain that there may be a difference, Tapper adds:
A source inside of the Ninth U.S. District Court tells ABC News that a representative of the Justice Department stood up to say that its position hasn’t changed, that new administration stands behind arguments that previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The DOJ lawyer said the entire subject matter remains a state secret.
How does that go – everybody now – “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
This is not going to please civil libertarians and human rights activists who had hoped the Obama administration would allow the lawsuit to proceed.
Not really. Like the bunch linked above, they’ll simply try to spin it.
Hope and change.
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.