President Obama’s stimulus plan, we were told, was designed to jolt the economy, “save” or “create” jobs and garner bipartisan support. The bill which passed the House Wednesday by a 244-188 margin (attracting not a single Republican vote and losing eleven Democrats) does none of these things. Although the bill now goes to the Senate, the House vote is in a sense a stunning rebuke. As Minority Leader John Boehner said in a released statement: “This was a bipartisan rejection of a partisan bill.”
So what happened?
The stimulus bill which passed is the handiwork of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She certainly did not constrain herself to the concept of a “stimulus” plan. The Wall Street Journal explained:
We’ve looked it over, and even we can’t quite believe it. There’s $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn’t turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts; $400 million for global-warming research and another $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. There’s even $650 million on top of the billions already doled out to pay for digital TV conversion coupons.
In selling the plan, President Obama has said this bill will make “dramatic investments to revive our flagging economy.” Well, you be the judge. Some $30 billion, or less than 5% of the spending in the bill, is for fixing bridges or other highway projects. There’s another $40 billion for broadband and electric grid development, airports and clean water projects that are arguably worthwhile priorities.
Add the roughly $20 billion for business tax cuts, and by our estimate only $90 billion out of $825 billion, or about 12 cents of every $1, is for something that can plausibly be considered a growth stimulus. And even many of these projects aren’t likely to help the economy immediately. As Peter Orszag, the president’s new budget director, told Congress a year ago, “even those [public works] that are ‘on the shelf’ generally cannot be undertaken quickly enough to provide timely stimulus to the economy.
The Democrats were shamed into removing a couple of the more egregious items — hundreds of millions to reseed the National Mall lawn and to pay for contraceptives. But the contours of the bill remained essentially the same and largely untouched by Republican hands.