The President’s Speech

I watched the President’s speech tonight, and I found it to be quite interesting for a number of reasons.

The first part of the speech seemed like “same old, same old,” and I think it will generally be perceived as such.  It appears to be more of the “stimulus” concept that has been tried and — in the views of many people, at least, including me — has been found wanting.  We’ll see what the bill itself says, but funding road and bridge construction projects to benefit construction firms and construction workers, extending unemployment benefits for yet another year, and arguing that the federal government should pay for the hiring of teachers, among other proposals, all sounds very familiar.  How is any of this different from the massive 2009 stimulus bill that has come, been borrowed and spent, and gone, and nevertheless left unemployment above 9 percent?

The middle part of the speech, in contrast, was much more interesting.  I think the President was signaling that he still wants to try to agree on a grand bargain.  He didn’t say specifically how he would pay for his new, “Stimulus Jr.” proposal — those details will be coming in a week or so — but he did talk about the need to revisit and reform Medicare and Medicaid and the need for tax reform as well.  If the President was serious in making those suggestions, there may be a basis for a meaningful compromise that actually puts those expensive programs on sounder long-term footing and gets rid of silly, outdated, tax breaks and special treatment.

The last part of the speech, with its vigorous defense of collective bargaining, government regulation, and government spending, sounded like a campaign speech and, like many campaign speeches, set up and knocked down some straw men.  And, indeed, the President promised to take his message to the country.  What’s wrong with that?  I hope that he does so, and I hope that the country responds with its honest reaction to the President’s proposals.  After we get the details of his plan and how to pay for it, let’s let the President’s ideas, the House Republicans’ ideas, and the ideas put forth by anyone else contend for support in the marketplace of ideas.  That is how America should work.

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Spinning Stimulus Statistics

President Obama’s “stimulus” package has been dogged by controversy since its enactment.  There have been questions about the accuracy of reports of jobs “saved or created” by the stimulus spending, claims that the money really was used mostly to maintain public employee jobs and to allow state governments to defer their own deficit-reduction efforts, and an admission by President Obama that there were no “shovel-ready” projects to be funded, notwithstanding what was represented when the “stimulus” legislation was enacted.

The most recent analysis of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, released Friday, estimates that the “stimulus” has cost $666 billion and produced between 2.4 million and 3.6 million jobs.  The 2.4 million jobs estimate was developed using the “CEA Multiplier Model” and the 3.6 million estimate was based on the “CEA Statistical Projection Approach.”  Republicans and The Weekly Standard have used the lower estimate, divided it into the total cost of the “stimulus,” and concluded that each of the 2.4 million jobs cost the taxpayers $278,000.  The White House responds that such an analysis is biased because it uses the lower jobs estimate and does not consider the tangible items that were built using “stimulus” funds.  Whose spin is closer to the truth?  When you consider that both jobs numbers are based on theoretical economic models and undertake the slippery task of estimating jobs “saved,” you may as well argue about how many economists can dance on the head of a pin.

Outside the Beltway, I think there is general consensus that the “stimulus” legislation did not deliver much bang for the buck.  The “stimulus” was sold as a way to massively jump start the economy, prevent high unemployment, and ensure a speedy recovery.  Those things clearly haven’t happened.  We’ve spent more than half a trillion dollars and we are still facing a stagnant economy characterized by high unemployment and low growth.  It’s as if we’ve gone on a bender, the intoxication has worn off, and we’ve now awakened to a painful hangover and a gigantic bar tab that we really couldn’t afford in the first place.

Please, Not More “Stimulus”!

Tomorrow President Obama gives his State of the Union speech.  Advance stories indicate that the speech will focus on the economy — no surprise there! — and that the President will call for more government “investment” in science, education, and innovation.

“Investment” is, of course, just a code word for more government spending.  The only reason the word “stimulus” isn’t used any more is that it has acquired deadly connotations for American voters, who recognize that the initial “stimulus” package was a leaden failure that grossly increased the federal debt without producing much in exchange. Doesn’t “investment” in “education” and “science” sound an awful lot like using our tax dollars to pay for more government jobs?  And as for “investment” in “innovation,” is there really anyone out there who thinks that members of Congress or government bureaucrats could distinguish true innovation from a cracked pumpkin?

We may find out tomorrow that the President has a great plan — but until then, color me skeptical.  Whenever I hear the argument that the way out of our ongoing recessionary doldrums is still more government spending, I have the same horrified and anguished reaction as the poor, lost soul Richard depicted on the wonderful bit of “kid art” accompanying this posting.

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.

Low Standards

The White House has issued a report stating that the stimulus spending, so far, has occurred on time and under budget, with fewer claims of outright fraud and abuse than some people expected.  The report also argues that the stimulus spending has been an economic success story.

There is no need to comment on the latter point, because the economic statistics and the common experiences of average Americans tell the tale.  What I find humorous about this latest report is the suggestion that we should be grateful that the process of spending hundreds of billions of dollars was “relatively free” of claims of outright fraud.  Well, thank goodness!  We’ve managed to avoid rampant criminal behavior!  Should that really be the standard by which we judge the effectiveness of a federal spending spree that has contributed mightily to enormous budget deficits and a sickening rise in our national debt?

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.