Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Would you buy a used car from Barack Obama? Or would you want him managing your 401(k) investment plan at work?

The president, of course, isn't in either business specifically, but in a larger sense he's been investing our money, picking the businesses he thinks will fuel economic expansion, new jobs and the technology of the future, and rebuild the nation's fraying infrastructure.

All it takes is money -- ours -- he says, and he's been spending it as fast as he can in a failed attempt to get the economy growing again. The economic policy term for this is "central planning," wherein the government tries to pick the winners and losers, dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into various business sectors in the belief that it will pay off in the long run.

The government isn't very good at this business, as we've seen in the disastrously ineffective $800 billion spending stimulus plan that Obama and the Democrats shoved through Congress in 2009.

Much of that money went into the budgets of countless federal departments, agencies and other programs that spent it. Still more went to states, counties, cities and towns for infrastructure programs or to keep public workers employed.

A lot of the money was given to businesses Obama thinks will be good for the environment, though his investment decisions didn't always work out the way he hoped.

Consider the White House-backed solar energy firm, Solyndra Inc., which declared bankruptcy this week after earlier pocketing a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Critics called the deal a "stimulus black hole."

When Obama visited the Solyndra factory in May 2010, he called the company a success story that was "leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future."

He was quite proud of his investment, boasting at the time that "Less than a year ago, we were standing on what was an empty lot," but now here was this shiny new factory that "is the result of those loans" backed by his administration.

It was later learned that the White House fast-tracked Solyndra's loan application, rushing Obama's pet project through without a lot of serious checking. Federal investigators said the administration bypassed procedures that would have safeguarded the taxpayers' investment.

Obama is big on the solar panel industry and, under his policies, the government has channeled a lot of our money into it over the past three years. But the U.S. industry has not turned out to be the bonanza he sold to the country. Solar panel prices have fallen because of strong competition from China, making the fledgling enterprise precarious at best without heavy federal subsidies.

Evergreen Solar Inc. filed for bankruptcy last month after being forced to close its plant in Massachusetts, built with state and local government subsidies.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., says the loan guarantee program "has not worked as well as we had hoped."

That sounds like a Wall Street investment banker defending a fat bundle of subprime real estate securities that went bad.

The solar panel industry is not the only "investment" Obama has sunk a lot of our money into. While the plants his loans built make for great campaign photo-ops, the costly reality is that government is trying to pick the winners and losers in our economy instead of letting the private sector do it.

But Obama thinks he's good at this investment business, and now he is trying to convince us to buy into a new federal "infrastructure bank" that will make off-budget grants and loans to rebuild roads, bridges and ports, and broadband lines and smart grids, with $30 billion of our money.

The bank would put "all those (unemployed) construction workers" back to work, he said. And it would provide Obama with lots of photo-ops at job sites, where he can say, "Look what I've done for you."

If this sounds familiar, it was sold to us in the guise of the 2009 job stimulus bill that was supposed to put the construction industry back to work.

Some short-term jobs were created, but when the building projects were completed, the jobs ended. The construction industry today is in a recession.

Making Obama the Investor-in-Chief, deciding how and where the nation's capital resources should be spent, hasn't worked and isn't going to work.

Ask Japan, which has gone on a public works spending binge but whose economy has been in a slump for two decades.

Better to shift federal public works spending decisions to the states, along with the gas-tax highway money, and let them -- not remote federal bureaucrats -- set their own priorities. Broaden the tax base by eliminating dozens of loopholes, then cut business and individual tax rates, and slash the capital gains tax to unlock job-creating investment capital.

Let the marketplace make the investment decisions that have made America the largest and most successful economy in the world. Obama has got better things to do with his time, like trying to figure out why his job approval polls have fallen to 39 percent.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.