Not Feeling Stimulated

Last Tuesday, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress, and the nation, about the state of the economy.  I was disappointed.

For a while now, I’ve been trying to compose some coherent thoughts about the $787B stimulus package signed into law last night.  In brief, I don’t like it.

But how can I fairly say that I don’t like it when I don’t know what’s in it?  I know that there’s something about tax cuts and money for states and localities and ‘shovel-ready’ projects.  On that level, my problem is still the same: commentators will pull out some aspect of the package or another for discussion or criticism, but I still don’t have a coherent view of the whole thing.

There are, however, some things that I can point to:

  • Our Fearless Leader, in fact, exercised no leadership in composing the package.  In the runup to his inauguration, he indicated that he wanted to see a stimulus bill on his desk, but kept his hands off while the Democratic party faithful went to work.
  • The Democrats responded like kids in a candy store.  Since all government spending stimulates to some degree, they decided to try and remake the world in the moderate President Obama that we elected.  Some of the really stupid stuff got killed through the legislative process, but much of it is still there.
  • One provision that particularly bothers me relates to welfare reform, one of the great successes of social legislation.  The package makes funds available to localities who abolish their requirements for welfare recipients to seek work or be placed in jobs.  (Mayor Bloomberg has wisely declined this aid.)  The thought is that in a tough job market, it’s pointless to press welfare recipients to try and find jobs that don’t exist.  But the real reason, I suspect, is to deter cash-strapped local governments from replacing union civil servants with welfare recipients.  You know what?  Times are tought all over!

Obama’s speech Tuesday night was somewhat of a disappointment.  He bagan and ended with an exhortation about how we would get through this crisis, and end up stronger than before.  President Bush said the same thing after 11 September, and it resonated: there was actual physical destruction that I could go and see if I really wanted to.  But while we’re told that there is a vast economic crisis, it’s a little hard to believe when there is still food (and everything else) in the stores and power at the socket.  Obama’s call, alas, rings hollow.

He discussed how credit is essential to the economy, and the measures to try and get banks to lend again. So far, so good.

And then he launched into a discussion that was a rehash of his campaign promises on education and health care.   Despite his efforts to tie these to addressing the current crisis, it all seemed a distraction.

At least he didn’t say ‘green jobs.’

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