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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Capitol Hill

James Rosen

Washington

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Stimulus Spending Timed To Favor Dems?

December 16, 2009 - 3:41 PM | by: James Rosen

Sharpening their attacks on one of President Obama’s early legislative successes, Republican lawmakers have begun charging that the stimulus spending bill is being used not to create jobs and lift the struggling economy, as  Obama claimed, but to advance the political fortunes of the Democratic Party.

Republican members of congressional committees that oversee the stimulus are touting a lengthy list of line items from the nearly $800 billion spending bill that have received little to no funding in the measure’s first ten months of existence.  And with roughly half of the expenditures slated to occur during fiscal year 2010, which runs from October 1 of this year through next September 30, the Republicans allege the spending is structured and timed to help Democrats in the rough political climate of the 2010 midterm elections.

“We were told in January we had to pass this massive $787 billion stimulus program in a hurry, so that the money could get out of town for shovel-ready job-creating projects,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  “And yet with only 12 percent (of the stimulus funds having been spent), we’ve got to ask ourselves: Is the administration – run by the politicals, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel – sitting on the money on purpose, so they can trickle it out in 2010, the election year?”

Republicans on the Appropriations Committee have disseminated figures, covering Fiscal Year 2009, to demonstrate the slowness with which stimulus funding is being doled out .  An analysis by the committee’s minority staff noted, for example, that of the nearly $6 billion authorized in the stimulus package for energy efficiency measures, only $3 million – less than one percent of the authorization – had been spent.  For “smart grid” projects, which employ digital technology to regulate the use of energy-consuming appliances in private homes, none of the $4.5 billion authorized had been spent.  And for weatherization initiatives, $174 million of the total $5 billion authorized, or some three percent, had been spent.

“The Pentagon spends money rapidly, FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] spends money rapidly,” said Kingston.  “We have had models where the bureaucracy can actually get the money out of town.  And yet on this one – which, again, was passed in this great fervor of urgency – the money is still here in Washington, D.C.

“The bureaucracy is sitting on the money.  And I don’t even think they’re that incompetent, that it’s been slowed because of the bureaucracy.  I think it’s going to be drummed out during the election year.”

Obama signed the stimulus package, officially titled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, into law on February 17.  “It will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years,” Obama said after signing the legislation, at a museum in Denver, Colorado.  Since then and through November, according to calculations using seasonally-adjusted total non-farm employment figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 2.8 million jobs have been lost.  However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that through September, an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed who would not have been had there been no stimulus package.

It is true that the bulk of the stimulus spending is slated to occur next year, when all 435 House seats and more than a third of the 100 Senate seats will be in play.  According to budget documents posted on the White House website, some $198 billion, or roughly 24 percent of the total funds appropriated in the stimulus package, were spent in Fiscal Year 2009.  That number will balloon to $390 billion – roughly 48 percent, or nearly half of all stimulus funds – in Fiscal Year 2010.  And another $238 million, or roughly 28 percent of the total, will be expended in Fiscal Year 2011 and beyond.

Key Democratic lawmakers emphatically rejected the Republicans’ charges that the spending is being manipulated to affect the outcome of the midterm elections.  “I don’t think it’s fair at all,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who sits on the Budget and Ways and Means Committees.  “The entire concept and structure of the Recovery Act was staggered, spread over two years.  That was the intention from the beginning.  We knew it would take some time to ramp up.  And you know we didn’t create the recession that started, and almost crashed the economy, last year; the Republicans did that.  The timing was theirs, not ours.  We had to act early this year.  We’ve acted.  It’s had an effect.”

Yarmuth cited his own district in northwestern Kentucky, which includes Louisville, as evidence of the economic activity spurred by the stimulus package.  He said some 2,400 stimulus-funded projects, accounting for up to $450 million, are presently underway there.

A listing of the twenty-five congressional districts that have received the most funds in the early stimulus spending, through the end of Fiscal Year 2009, shows only eight of them are represented by a Republican or “Blue Dog” (fiscally conservative) Democrat.  New York’s 21st District, which includes the state capital of Albany, leads the list with some $4.2 billion in appropriations; California’s fifth, which includes the state capital of Sacramento, ranks second, with $3.7 million; Texas’s 21st, represented by Rep. Lamar Smith, an influential Republican, comes in third; the District of Columbia places fourth; and Washington state’s 4th district, also represented by a Republican, is fifth.

Yet Michael Balsam of Onvia, a Seattle-based firm that has been tracking stimulus spending, also discounted political motivations in the flow of dollars from the Beltway to local projects.  “The impact from the stimulus from this year will really start to hit the ground in local communities in 2010,” Balsam told Fox News.  “The money has left the beltway, but it hasn’t been directly spent with the contractors that actually put people to work.”

Longtime students of Capitol Hill say large spending bills like the Recovery Act typically reflect a mix of public policy and partisan political objectives.  “Appropriators,” said Fox News contributor Michael Barone, a columnist with U.S. News & World Report, “want to benefit what they think is for the public good, and that may include the good of their political party.”

As evidence of the instinctive impulse among lawmakers to protect their own, Barone pointed to the stimulus measure’s stream of funding to state and municipal governments.  “That was with the intention and the effect of preventing layoffs of state and local public employees, who are also in many states public employee union members.  That’s kept the flow of money going to the public employee unions, who contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democratic Party in the 2008 cycle.”

Another factor, said Barone, is the complexity of the modern appropriations process.  “The federal government is just not as good at spending money rapidly as it was back in the days of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s,” he said.  “The New Dealers, people like [Roosevelt adviser] Harry Hopkins and [Interior Secretary] Harold Ickes in the federal government, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, could literally gin up public payrolls within a matter of weeks and get large numbers of people working.  They didn’t have to undergo these environmental reviews, the lawsuits, the various administrative procedures the federal government is now burdened by.  So the fact is that when you authorize a lot of federal spending, you don’t get the money actually spent very soon in many cases.”

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