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”.
Also included at the press conference was a blogger from the left-wing Huffington Post (and more power to him, I might add):
Longtime members of the White House press corps who are accustomed to sitting in the front row of presidential press conferences were surprised to find their prime real estate occupied by Ed Schultz, a strident liberal who hosts a nationally syndicated radio program originally based in Fargo, N.D., but of late broadcasting from the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
So, since no right-wing bloggers or talk show hosts were included, does this mean we need a Fairness Doctrine for Presidential press conferences?
Clearly, President Obama was making a point of showing deference to the Left at his first prime-time press conference, which was broadcast to millions from the stately East Room of the White House on Monday.
Like such a show was actually necessary. I can’t wait for Sen. Debby Stabenow to bring the Fairness Doctrine up again in the Senate. Watching someone embarrass themselves is usually pretty entertaining.
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.
The new line out of Tehran is that Iran is ready for talks with the US if those talks are a “dialog with respect”. So let’s check out President Ahmadinejad’s words, shall we?
“The new U.S. administration has said that it wants change and it wants to hold talks with Iran,” President Ahmadinejad said.
“It is clear that change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people welcome real changes,” he said. “Our nation is ready to hold talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad went on to say that Iran could cooperate with the United States to uproot terrorism in the region. “The Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism,” he said.
But he referred to former President Bush as one of reasons for insecurity in the region and said, “Bush and his allies should be tried and punished.”
“If you really want to uproot terrorism, let’s cooperate to find the initiators of the recent wars in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, try them and punish them,” he said.
“Fundamental, not tactical”. Remember, Ahamdinejad accused the Obama administration of only favoring a tactical change. His claim was the Obama administration would not be fundamentally different in its approach to relations with Iran than was the Bush administration. While in Munich, VP Joe Biden made it clear that the US wouldn’t tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons and reserved the right to pre-emptively attack Iran in case it refused to stand down its nuclear weapons program and produced a nuclear bomb. That is the very same policy the Bush administration advanced. How that can be spun as a “fundamental change” vs. a “tactical change” will be interesting to watch. But one is certainly hard put to describe such a policy as one which would place the talks on a plane of “mutual respect”.
An interesting line, of course, is Ahmadinejad’s declaration that the “Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism”. The obvious reason for that declaration is found in the next line, i.e. the policies of the Bush administration are interpreted by Ahmadenijad as being terroristic in nature as they pertain to Iran. But, other than the “let’s talk” invitation, the policy of pre-emptive action remains the announced policy of the Obama administration as well.
Last, but certainly not least, Ahmadinejad clearly puts the Israel question on the table and lays out his solution for stopping terrorism. While Iran demands a “fundamental” change in the US approach to relations with that nation, there’s certainly nothing to suggest that Iran is willing to make fundamental changes in return. And its proxy war with Israel, through Hamas and Hezbollah is certainly an indicator of its continuing attempt to take the “Zionist entity” on.
So while some may be encouraged by the fact that Ahmadinejad is at least talking about better relations with the US, I say take it all with a large grain of salt. Iran has aspirations toward being the regional power in the Middle East. That is what brought it in direct conflict with Iraq and precipitated their 8 year war. Iraq also had such aspirations. Iraq is no longer a threat in that regard, and the only entity that really stands in its way is the US. Obviously Iran would like to neutralize the US and its influence in the region. One way to do that is to pretend to give the new administration what is so desperately wants – a foreign policy success. Entering into direct talks with the US would do that while really costing Iran nothing. In return for those direct talks, Iran would demand that the US tone down its rhetoric and lift sanctions thereby accomplishing it’s neutralization goal. It can extend the talks as long as it wishes while it proceeds on its merry way to creating a nuclear weapon and marrying it to a long-range missile. At that point, the US is no longer necessary as Iran, by fiat, will be if not the dominant regional power in the Middle East, a close second (assuming as everyone does, that Israel has nukes).
At that point, an Obama administration would be left to either live up to Biden’s words or back off and hope Iran doesn’t finally deal with the “Zionist entity” before Israel deals with it.
Food for thought.
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 stimulus package the U.S. Congress is completing would raise the government’s commitment to solving the financial crisis to $9.7trillion, enough to pay off more than 90 percent of the nation’s home mortgages.
The Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation have lent or spent almost $3 trillion over the past two years and pledged up to $5.7 trillion more. The Senate is to vote this week on an economic-stimulus measure of at least $780 billion. It would need to be reconciled with an $819 billion plan the House approved last month.
Again, that’s “trillion” with a “T”. In order to grasp the magnitude of that much spending, understand that you can reasonably round the number to $10 Trillion and thereby assume an extra $300 Billion, which is about the amount of TARP funds already pushed out the front doors of Congress. It’s also about one third of the amount being debated in Congress right now. In other words, the stimulus funds are pennies compared to amount of money already spent and/or promised.
Here’s another way to look at it (my emphasis):
The $9.7 trillion in pledges would be enough to send a $1,430 check to every man, woman and child alive in the world. It’s 13 times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office data, and is almost enough to pay off every home mortgage loan in the U.S., calculated at $10.5 trillion by the Federal Reserve.
It’s a lot of money. So why is it that we’re only privy to the debate (if it can be called that) over a measly 10% of the spending?
“We’ve seen money go out the back door of this government unlike any time in the history of our country,” Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said on the Senate floor Feb. 3. “Nobody knows what went out of the Federal Reserve Board, to whom and for what purpose. How much from the FDIC? How much from TARP? When? Why?”
The pledges, amounting to almost two-thirds of the value of everything produced in the U.S. last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up about 18 months ago. The promises are composed of about $1 trillion in stimulus packages, around $3 trillion in lending and spending and $5.7 trillion in agreements to provide aid.
Many of us were disappointed with the spending habits of “compassionate conservativism” and lamented how it merely approximated socialist government policies with a friendly face. Of course, the alternative to Bush was real-deal socialist spending and a weakening of our national security.
Now we’re getting the full-on brunt of a dour-visaged collectivist government, employing a magician’s sleight of hand, and it makes the compassionate conservatism look positively stingy in comparison. While we argue over $800 Billion, another $9 Trillion is quietly being shoveled out the backdoor with little to no accountability.
When Congress approved the TARP on Oct. 3, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged the need for transparency and oversight. The Federal Reserve so far is refusing to disclose loan recipients or reveal the collateral they are taking in return.
There’s no doubt that the Bush administration greased the skids, but Obama is running a rocket sled of spending, and there does not appear to be any end in sight.
One has to wonder when Atlas will finally shrug.
Or is this just “cynical manipulation?”
President Obama in Elkhart, IN today (email transcript – Fed. News Svc) in answer to a question by Helen Castello, a person in the crowd attending the rally:
So — so we may — we may debate– we — we can debate, you know, whether you’d rather have this tax cut versus that tax cut or this project versus that project. Be clear, though, that there aren’t — there aren’t individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill. Regardless of what the critics say, there are no earmarks in this bill. That’s part of the change that we’re bringing to Washington, is making sure that this money is well-spent to actually create jobs right here in Elkhart.
No earmarks huh? Does President Obama really know that? Or even believe it?
Here he is addressing the House Democrats in Williamsburg last Friday night:
Then there’s the argument, well, this is full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one. (Applause.)
We report. You decide.
But you have to wonder how Ms. Castello, who gushed all over Mr. Obama, must now feel knowing he lied to her face about earmarks knowing full well, as indicated by his remarks to Democrats, that the bill indeed included earmarks?
Hope and change.
UPDATE: Here’s a link from a local TV station in Indiana which validates the first quote (although they end up paraphrasing Obama).
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.
Despite all the happy talk about hope and change concerning America’s foreign policy the reality is every nation out there has its own agenda and America still stands in the way of many of them. In the case of our allies, their agenda usually entails seeing how much of the load they can get America carry. And, while the hope, hype and spin claim that this is the dawn of a new era, in reality the clock is ticking:
The danger is that, as the novelty of the Obama administration begins to wear off the U.S. will be left with little more to show for its renewed focus on diplomacy than the Bush administration achieved.
Before that occurs, U.S. officials are hoping a willingness to engage in a way that the Bush administration never was will produce progress. Major reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Iran are currently under way and are expected to produce new options for Obama within several weeks.
The options produced may be new for Obama, but will they be new for those nations at which they’re aimed? And will they address the fundamental problems in the areas they are intended or will they simply be the same policies with shiny new names? While Obama may come up with what he considers many new options, in reality the options are quite limited when it comes to some of the nations who are going to challenge him (and that will be dictated by the attitude those nations take to any new Obama initiatives).
As the Washington Times notes, his foreign affairs problems are beginning to cascade:
On Friday, Pakistan – the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid – released from house arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist who for two decades ran a black market that sold nuclear-weapons technology to U.S. adversaries including Iran and Libya.
Two days earlier, Kyrgyzstan announced that it would not renew a U.S. lease at
the Manas air base, a critical transshipment point in the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the Russians – who offered Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in cash and loans to oust the Americans – said that they intend to establish a new base in a breakaway enclave of Georgia, the country Moscow invaded over the summer in response to a Georgian assault on another enclave.
If this were not enough, Iran last week launched a crude satellite into space, suggesting that the Islamic regime has mastered at least some of the technology for multistage, long-range missiles.
Finally, Yemen on Sunday announced that it had released 170 men arrested on suspicion of having ties to al Qaeda. Just two weeks earlier, the terrorist group called Yemen its base for the entire Arabian Peninsula.
And let’s not forget that the Obama administration has already upset India with its claim that it would involve itself in the India/Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.
A president’s primary job involves foreign policy. He is the sole architect and executor of it. But thus far, it seems more of a distraction than a focus for Obama. He has primarily concerned himself with his domestic agenda and delegated his foreign policy role to Biden – at least for the time being. But Biden isn’t the decision maker and lack of focus on foreign affairs could see the US end up, diplomatically, behind the power curve if enemies perceive him as not being fully engaged and his diplomatic effort lacking leadership. That is a weakness they would try to exploit.
If that ends up happening, all of this happy talk will quickly go out of the window and the Obama administration could be facing the same stark choices, and options, that his predecessor faced – if he’s lucky.