Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Stimulus of My Current Anger

Life has been busy lately. MidMark has not been immune to the economic malaise, and we have been busy trying to keep our portfolio working properly.

So while I have read the headlines occasionally, I have not spent much time digging into the details. The topic dominating the headlines recently has been the stimulus package, which passed the House today (apparently without a single Republican vote – so much for Obama’s post-partisanship!).

Not knowing much about it except that it included a lot of money for infrastructure projects like bridges and highways, I assumed that it had been crafted largely by economists who had sat in a room somewhere trying to think of all the ways that we could get our economy rolling again by using the treasury to spend money on stuff. Presumably, there was a method to the madness.

Hearing that the stimulus bill had passed the house, I set out tonight to find out some details of this $900 billion bill. I searched around Google for a summary of the stimulus, but found only either vaporous news articles, light on facts but heavy on politics, or true position papers from the online blogs and opinion journals. I didn’t want someone’s opinion, I just wanted the facts! What’s in this damn bill?

One of the blogs I read had a link to the actual bill itself (I’ll have a link at the end of this post). Having recently spent a good portion of my life perusing voluminous legal documents, I’ve become quite a good speed reader, so the prospect of actually reading the bill rather than someone else’s version of it was appealing. I clicked right in.

First thing I found: 647 pages. Ugh. But I’m a really good speed reader, so, undeterred, I read on. I flashed through the first 50 or so pages which covered policies & procedures, transparency, oversight boards & the like. Pretty boring.

Soon, I got to the good stuff. It’s not a complicated bill. It’s written clearly in very simple language. First, I found an appropriation of $44 million for “Agriculture Buildings and Facilities.” Not much of any explanation, just $44 million for some buildings. Huh? But I continued. Then, there was $2.825 billion for “the cost of broadband loans and guarantees.” Huh? Where’d that number come from? Then, there was $50 million for “Youthbuild activities” and $750 million for “a program of competitive grants for worker training and placement…”

My heart started to sink. I was starting to get it. I started flipping through pages faster. $120 million for “community service for older Americans.” $462 million for “disease control, research and training.” No explanation, no details, just that: $462 million for disease control, research and training.

On page 131 I stopped flipping through pages. Shame on me. Shame, shame, shame on me for not knowing what was going on here. All these past few weeks, I was blithely carrying on, thinking that Obama and his smartest economists were sitting around with charts and graphs, trying to figure out the most effective way to deploy government dollars into our markets in order to grease the wheels of commerce.

Instead, what happened was that he went to Congress and said: “hey, what do you guys want?”

This damn bill is full of $900 billion worth of pet projects that people could not get passed or funded under normal circumstances! Where’d all those odd numbers come from? Certain people had been thinking about those things for years! When Obama said – hey, we don’t have to worry about deficits anymore – everyone just piled their favorite spending into a bill and they hid their true intentions by calling it a stimulus bill!

Read it. Please. Follow this link and read it. This bill is simply horrifying.

Let me be clear – I am not coming down on one side or the other of the current argument about the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus. I am simply pointing out that this particular bill is not a stimulus bill. It is an orgy of spending. It is Santa’s bag of gifts for House and Senate democrats. It is the far left’s greatest, sweetest dream come true.

I’ve been reasonably willing to cut Obama some slack over the last few weeks. He’s seemed smart and pragmatic, and has seemed to solicit opinions from just about everyone before making any decisions. But now, whatever my thoughts on the effectiveness of a true stimulus, one thing is very clear: my short honeymoon with Obama is OVER!

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