What a Difference a Few Years Makes

While in Chicago last weekend I spent some time reading an interesting article in Vanity Fair on John McCain and how he and his views have changed over the past two years from the man who almost became president.

The article mentioned a long list of issues and what might have been done if anything under a McCain administration. Here’s the list below with a couple that I researched and added myself :

Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – video shown above was the first piece of reform President Obama signed into law which offers fair pay to women – the reform was twice vetoed by President Bush and McCain was also opposed to the legislation.

Iraq – probably no troop draw down under McCain.

Iran – under McCain the United States would have maybe blockaded or possibly bombed Iran due to their nuclear ambitions and their flawed election last year.

Student Loan Reform – John McCain was not in favor of the government takeover eliminating private banks as the middlemen in the loan process.

Auto Bailout – General Motors and Chrysler would have most likely been allowed to go bankrupt causing thousands more to lose their jobs.

Wallstreet Financial Industry Reform Act – probably no significant regulation of the financial industry allowing them to continue to police themselves.  

Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – McCain’s comments on the Senate floor railing against DADT in recent days make it clear that he did not want DADT repealed.

Stimulus Bill – McCain was against the Stimulus bill and wanted a bill with more tax cuts – its hard to tell what condition the economy would be in at this point in time under his admistration.

Healthcare Reform – perhaps some modest reforms under McCain, but nothing even close to what has been passed under Obama.

Supreme Court Justices – McCain would have almost certainly nominated two conservative judges to the court. White males ?

Hate Crime Prevention – McCain like most Republicans is against hate crimes legislation saying state laws already cover hate crimes and passing the Hate Crime Prevention Act could criminalize religious opposition to homosexuality.

Credit Card Reform – perhaps modest reform under a McCain administration, but McCain has typically voted against additional regulation of banks and their credit card practices.

While it is impossible to know for sure what might have happened had McCain taken office I think this list speaks for itself and that the President deserves some credit for his persistency to get his agenda enacted.

How Will History Judge?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now describing the current Congress as the “most productive Congress in the history of the country.” He numbers among its accomplishments the “stimulus” legislation, the “health care reform” legislation, repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, new financial regulations, and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

When you are in the moment, it is difficult to assess what the ultimate judgment of history will be.  I doubt that many Americans would put the current Congress up among the great Congresses of the past, however.  After all, voters just gave the boot to many of the Representatives and Senators who passed the legislation Reid touts, and Congress’ approval rating is a dismal 13 percent — its lowest level in decades.  And those people who are critical of Congress no doubt will point to the things that Congress didn’t do, like passing appropriations bills or making meaningful cuts to the federal budget.

History will make its judgment, as history always does.  In the meantime, there is something unseemly and profoundly unattractive about Senator Reid’s excessive pride.  His hubris exemplifies a significant problem with the current uninspiring crop of legislators:  they are oblivious to how they are being perceived outside the Beltway.

Our Government, Dr. Frankenstein

As the stimulus program winds down, we learn more about how our federal dollars were spent.

The latest story reports that the inspector general for the Social Security Administration examined the $250 payments made to senior citizens under the stimulus bill.  The inspector general determined that 72,000 of the $250 payments — $18 million in all — were made to the dearly departed, and another $4.3 million went to 17,000 prison inmates.  Nice to know that our frankensteinian government is seeking to stimulate the dead, and the imprisoned!  Is anyone checking to see whether the trade in cigarettes and illicit goods at San Quentin has flourished as a result?

The article reports that a little more than half of the improper payments to those already dead were returned, and I suppose we should be grateful that so many relatives were honest.  The article makes no mention of how many prisoners acted similarly, however.

The Departures Continue

Slowly but surely, the members of President Obama’s economic team are hitting the road.  In July the budget director left the Administration, earlier this month Christina Romer departed, and now Larry Summers, viewed as one of the President’s most senior economic advisers, has announced that he is leaving.  President Obama has praised all of them as brilliant, capable, moving things in the right direction, etc. — but the reality is that the recession continues, economic forecasts are downbeat, unemployment and foreclosures rates are extraordinarily high, and consumer confidence is scraping the bottom of the barrel.  If that is the President’s definition of brilliant stewardship, what would abject failure look like?

I think the President and his political team have the savvy to realize that, given the lame performance of the economy and the unkept promises of the stimulus bill and other economic initiatives, heads need to roll.  Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner undoubtedly will soon follow Romer, Summers, and others out the door, so that the President can make a show out of bringing in a “new economic team” with “new ideas” to deal with his plummeting popularity and the nagging suspicion among many people that President Obama might not be up to the task.

The timing is obviously coincidental, but the poignant question posed to the President at his recent town hall forum about middle class citizens worrying about returning to a franks and beans existence is a powerful indication of what average Americans are thinking.  The President needs to show that he understands what they are saying and is acting on it, and he can’t do that with the same group of advisers who are widely viewed as presiding over a failed — indeed, disastrous — economic policy.

Worst “Stimulus” Story Yet

The Los Angeles City Controller has released a report that the $111 million Los Angeles received in “stimulus” funds “created or retained” exactly 55 jobs.

With stories like this, will people please stop trying to convince us that the “stimulus” bill was anything other than a gross exercise in pork barrel spending that utterly failed to deliver what was promised?

Another Reason Not To Trust Stimulus Statistics (Cont.)

The AP does a critical analysis of Vice President Biden’s comments about the weatherization program funded with “stimulus” funds and concludes that the Veep failed to mention some pretty material points.  No surprise there.

The Obama Administration really should stop talking about the “stimulus” debacle before its loses all credibility.

Another Reason Not To Trust “Stimulus” Statistics

You’d think that the Obama Administration and Congress would have realized by now that it is pointless and counterproductive to try to convince Americans that the “stimulus” bill was a huge success, but they keep trying anyway.

Earlier this week, for example, President Obama visited Columbus and cited the work of one local architecture firm on a new crime lab as another example of the positive economic impact of the “stimulus” legislation.

The Columbus Dispatch now reports that the President was wrong, and that in fact no “stimulus” money is involved in the project.  It’s just another reason to be skeptical of the silly, unvalidated “jobs created or saved” statistics that get thrown around in attempting to justify what clearly was a wasteful pork barrel bill that did not provide the economic boost that was promised.

Let “Cuts” Be Cuts

How often have we seen this kind of story?  Congress needs to pass an important measure by a deadline.  As it becomes clear that the bill will pass, somehow, new provisions, unrelated to the purpose of the original bill, get added in hopes that they also can ride the train to enactment.  And when the additions involve new spending, as they often do, and deficit hawks insist that the new spending be paid for by offsetting “cuts,” Congress somehow finds precisely the amount of “cuts” that are necessary to make up the difference.

So it is with an Afghan war spending bill now working its way through Congress.  Democrats in the House have added $10 billion in new spending to help local school districts avoid teacher layoffs.  According to the linked article, the $10 billion would be “funded” through multiple “cuts” in prior spending bills, including last year’s dismally unsuccessful “stimulus” bill.  Other “cuts” would come from defense spending, community development, and rural internet projects.

As a matter of policy, I don’t think the federal government should concern itself with local teacher layoffs.  Those matters should be reserved for local government entities, which are best positioned to decide whether to seek additional tax revenues and, if such efforts fail, to make judgments on how to respond in accordance with their budgets.  Teacher layoffs are not necessarily a bad thing, particularly in districts where the growth in teacher hiring has been disproportionate to the growth in student population, and are certainly not a matter of federal concern.

More fundamentally, I’d like to see the $10 billion in “cuts” that would “finance” the new spending under this proposal be implemented as real cuts.  If there is $10 billion in savings to be had, let’s just actually save that money, rather than dreaming up new ways to spend it.

A Verdict (Of Sorts) On The “Stimulus” Bill

The National Association of Business Economics yesterday published the results of its quarterly survey of its 68 members who work in private sector firms.  The survey asked them to evaluate the impact of the $787 billion stimulus legislation passed at the beginning of last year, and 73% said employment at their companies was no higher (or, for that matter, lower) than it would have been without the stimulus legislation.  Sixty-eight people is a pretty small sample size, but the idea that 73% of any group of economists agrees on something has its own special impact.  It is probably fair to assume, too, that the NABE members who were polled work in large-type companies.  Not many Mom and Pop start-ups have economists on the payroll, and it could well be that the survey therefore cannot account for any job growth that happened at the small business level.

Still, it seems clear that the “stimulus” bill will eventually be viewed as an incredibly expensive bust.  The unemployment rate is much higher than was promised when the bill was enacted, and most of the spending under the bill seems to have been geared toward protecting government jobs, not creating or preserving jobs in the private sector.  The results of the NABE survey undoubtedly would have been different if economists employed by federal, state, and local government entities were asked about the effect of the stimulus bill on employment with those entities.

An Ill Wind Blows No Good

The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University has tracked “stimulus bill” spending on wind power — nearly $2 billion in all — and the results are not pretty.  It turns out that nearly 80 percent of the money spent has gone to foreign manufacturers of wind turbines, creating thousands of jobs overseas rather than in America.  Americans apparently are getting temporary jobs erecting the machinery at the wind farm locations here in the United States, whereas employees of factories in places like China and Vietnam are getting the bread-and-butter blue collar manufacturing jobs that so many Americans crave.  Even Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senator from New York, thinks that the stimulus wind power spending has been a jobs creation bust.  And in the meantime, the $2 billion spent on the wind projects was all borrowed money on which American taxpayers will be paying interest to holders of American debt, in places like China, for years to come.  And, it may well be that wind power projects will have to be subsidized by the government well into the foreseeable future, too.

This story is not that much of a surprise, given the dismal track record of the pork-laden, poorly considered stimulus bill.  But it also should be a lesson to wary taxpayers as Congress discusses new “jobs” bills.  (No one on Capital Hill wants to use the word “stimulus” ever again.)  Simply appropriating money for “feel-good” government projects, like the wind power projects in the stimulus bill, doesn’t necessarily create jobs in America.  The only sure way to meet that goal is to identify and fund projects that necessarily will involve work, from beginning to end, that must occur in America.  Infrastructure improvements would be good examples.  An even better approach would be to encourage appropriate development of America’s oil and natural gas resources, which would have the effect of creating jobs in America while easing our dependence on foreign energy sources.

After the “health care reform” disaster, Congress is now talking up a “jobs agenda,” hoping that they will have some accomplishment to point to when the reelection campaigns gear up in a few months and unemployment continues to linger at or above 10 percent.  Let’s hope any such legislation is done in a more thoughtful way that actually meets the desired goal of putting Americans back to work.

Editorializing On The Failed Stimulus

The Detroit News editorializes on the failure of the “stimulus bill” to create jobs and on the credibility gap created by the phony recovery.gov website reports on jobs “created or saved.”  The box to the right of the editorial shows the fake Michigan congressional districts which supposedly saw the creation of jobs as a result of stimulus spending.

I think it is pretty telling when one of the leading newspapers in one of the states that has been most hard-hit by the economic downturn concedes that the “stimulus bill” has been  poorly conceived failure. It is hard to argue with the logic of the editorial:  that the stimulus spending should have been specifically and exclusively used on meaningful public works projects, where the jobs that were created could be counted with more assurance and the result would be something of use to the surrounding community, like a rebuilt bridge or road (except in the case of the John Murtha airport, which no one really uses).  Instead, the stimulus money was frittered away on the pet projects of our congressional representatives and used to give raises to those already employed, the books have been cooked on the jobs “created or saved,” and we will be paying off the increased debt as a result of that spending for decades.

Other Than That, The Numbers Are Completely Accurate

The ongoing series of news articles exposing the phony claims about jobs “created or saved” continues.  The latest salvo is from ABC News, which determined that the government website that reports on jobs “created or saved” includes claims that jobs were created in congressional districts that don’t even exist.  What’s interesting about the story is not the existence of phony claims — those have been found in a number of recent stories, as I have noted in prior posts, see here and here — but rather that the government spokesperson quoted in the story blithely admits that the website just reprinted whatever was claimed in the reports it received.  Because “human beings make mistakes,” he says, it should come as no surprise that the numbers reported on the website are inaccurate.  Nevertheless, even Congressmen who supported the stimulus bill are complaining about the egregious misstatements on the recovery.gov website.

One of the things that President Obama promised to bring to our government was transparency.  What good is transparency, however, if the federal government is reporting fake numbers as if they are authoritative?  Why can’t federal employees take the time to “fact-check” the claims they have received before giving them a stamp of legitimacy by publishing them on a governmental website?  We deserve better than this.


It seems like every day there is another news story on the utter phoniness of the federal government’s shameless reporting of jobs “saved or created” by the $787 billion “stimulus” bill passed by Congress earlier this year.  The latest article exposing the bogus jobs claims comes from the Boston Globe, which reports that the claims that 12,374 jobs were “saved or created” in Massachusetts were “wildly exaggerated.”  Through interviews of stimulus fund recipients, the Globe determined that people miscounted jobs, submitted flatly erroneous figures, and claimed jobs were created by projects that have not even begun.  The article states:  “The federal stimulus report for Massachusetts has so many errors, missing data, or estimates instead of actual job counts that it may be impossible to accurately tally how many people have been employed by the massive infusion of federal money.”

Does anyone really believe that we will ever get an accurate report on the actual, honest-to-God results produced by the $787 billion “stimulus” bill?  And, if the federal government told us that some future, revised set of statistics on jobs “created or saved” were final and fully audited, would anyone truly believe the numbers?

This kind of painfully obvious confusion, ineptitude, and falsification is, I think, one reason why people are so concerned about the massive health care reforms being considered by Congress.  We have seen that our government cannot even accurately count jobs attributable to federal expenditures; why in the world would anyone believe the federal government can capably  reshape and manage  our nation’s sprawling health care system, which employs millions of Americans and treats tens of millions of Americans every year?


Creative Accounting

Here’s another article finding significant errors in the counting of “jobs created or saved” by the stimulus bill.  In this case, one agency reported saving almost twice as many jobs as actually existed.  Even more galling, another government spokesman tried to defend the practice of counting the raises given to government employees as somehow equivalent to “saved” jobs.  The article quotes an HHS spokesman as saying that “If I give you a raise, it is going to save a portion of your job.”

The definition of what constitutes a job “created or saved” is inherently slippery.  What is really appalling is that even the slippery definitions have been pressed beyond the breaking point, so that non-existent jobs get counted and raises for government employees are defended as “saved” jobs.  In view of the kind of information reported in the linked article, does anyone actually think the federal government’s statistical evidence for the “success” of the stimulus spending bill has any credibility whatsoever?

It’s bad enough that the figures have been jiggered to make it look like the stimulus spending has had any material positive impact.  What is really infuriating, however, is that a government employee thinks that American taxpayers are so gullible and dim-witted that they will swallow the explanation that a raise given to government workers is equivalent to a job “saved.”   How gratifying to think that our tax dollars are helping to pay the salary of someone who clearly has only contempt for our intellect.

An Even Smaller Mouse

I’ve previously posted on the tiny amount of job creation that has been attributed to the massive “stimulus bill.”   Now it turns out that even the 34,000 jobs that the government claimed were “saved or created” by stimulus spending is itself an inflated figure.  An AP report states that the reported number of jobs “created or saved” is overstated by thousands of jobs, with some jobs double- and even triple-counted and others just invented.

Taxpayers legitimately should ask whether the stimulus package, which was supposed to have an immediate impact on the economy, is worth its near trillion-dollar price tag as we view the employment results some 8 months later.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that our elected representatives viewed the stimulus package as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reward political supporters and cronies with government contracts, to no apparent purpose.  Having sown the wind with their crass and purely political uses of our tax dollars, I hope those wretched politicians who wrote and voted for the stimulus package someday reap the whirlwind.