I spent last Monday celebrating the fifth birthday of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; better known as the stimulus. I looked around to see how the president was celebrating the day, but he was nowhere to be found. Later in the week Vice President Joe Biden reminded us of the big day but nobody noticed.
The president signed the bill just 28 days into his presidency. It was the Democrat approach to stimulating an economy that was in serious trouble.
The two principal arguments on behalf of the bill were that it would provide tax cuts for 95 percent of us and that it would fund thousands of “shovel-ready” road and bridge projects creating millions of new jobs.
President Barack Obama picks up the first pen to sign the economic stimulus bill during, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009, during a ceremony in the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Nine months into the program the administration created a new twist on job creation. They celebrated the 650,000 jobs that were created “or saved”.
Of those, 935 jobs were “saved” at the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council in Moultrie, Ga. Since they only have 508 employees that was some trick. Director Myrtis Mulkey-Ndawula said that she used the money she received to give her employees a raise. Following the guidance provided, she multiplied the number of employees, 508, by the average percent raise, 1.84 percent, and voila, 935 jobs saved.
That exercise was carried out across the country saving a spectacular number of jobs. Did it do anything for job creation? Nope.
The other selling point was a tax cut for 95 percent of us. Since only about half of us pay taxes on our income, that turned out to be nothing more than a transfer of money from America’s creditors to 95 percent of us. It was nice to get the $600, but it did nothing for the economy.
A significant portion of the Stimulus Bill was an expansion of welfare. Eligibility requirements for food stamp recipients were relaxed and spending increased accordingly. The same was done for work requirements for welfare payments. Unemployment insurance benefits were extended from 26 weeks to 99 weeks.
This undated photo provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation shows a Denver-area sign. Colorado highway authorities say they'll continue requiring highway bids using federal stimulus money to include these signs. That's despite complaints from Republicans that the "Putting America To Work" signs are simply promotions for the spending plan. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation)
The biggest portion of the money went to state and local governments to avoid having to lay off public employees. They were particularly interested in keeping schoolteachers, firemen and policemen on the payroll and thus continuing the union dues needed for the next election. A study by Ohio State economics professor Bill Duper concluded that 75 percent of all jobs created or saved were government jobs.
Like all big spending bills, “eamarks” added neat little treats for certain congressional districts, but did nothing for the economy. The most common response to the discovery of these little gems is, “What the…?”
Perkins, Okla. was given $1.445 million toward the cost of a new wastewater treatment facility. The federal conditions that came with the money increased the project’s cost from $5.26 million to $7.2 million entirely negating the value of the grant.
The home airport of Congressman Jack Murtha in Johnstown, Penn. received $800,000 to install a mechanical luggage carousel for the three flights and 20 passengers it serves each day.
Lake Jackson, Fla. will use $3.4 million to build a tunnel under a road so that turtles can safely cross under the road rather than over it.
The Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency (RAT) Board has estimated that $55 billion will just fall through the cracks from fraud and waste.
In 2010 the Brookings Institution estimated that $51 billion of the stimulus money went to private companies for “green” energy initiatives: 80 percent of the loans went to Obama campaign contributors. After five years, 32 companies have filed for bankruptcy with another 22 in serious financial difficulty.
Five years and one trillion dollars later the unemployment rate is still well above 6 percent. It has only dropped that low because 9 million workers have dropped out of the work force. Our work force participation is the lowest it has been in 30 years. Labor participation among blacks is the lowest ever recorded.
The administration points to 47 consecutive months of private sector job growth. They do not discuss what kind of jobs they are. Of the 953,000 jobs created last year, 731,000 were part time jobs.
[sharequote align="center"]No matter how noble their intentions, politicians cannot affect the size or shape of the economy.[/sharequote]
No matter how noble their intentions, politicians simply cannot affect the size or the shape of the economy. That is done by millions of people making billions of choices each day. Some of their choices will be wrong, but that will not impact the entire economy. Those billions of decisions taken together will shape an economy that will satisfy most of us most of the time.
It is fair to ask if this effort was, indeed, noble. After all of the promises made that we would be rebuilding roads and bridges creating millions of new jobs, less than 7 percent of all the money was spent on them. Had we been told the truth – that this was a major welfare expansion – it would never have passed.
In a White House Jobs Council meeting in 2011, President Obama chuckled, “Shovel-ready was not as…uh…shovel-ready as we expected.” The Council erupted in laughter.
Our grandchildren, paying the bill, will not be laughing.
John Linder can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @linderje
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