Ken Connor
Stimulus: "something that rouses or incites to activity" (Merriam-Webster)

Barack Obama promised to get the economy's mojo working again with the passage of an almost $800 billion stimulus package.  Wall Street responded with a Bronx Cheer and a 300 drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

What gives?

The market rightly decided that Mr. Obama and his party had sold the American people a pig in a poke.  Pig as in "pork."  The so-called stimulus package was laden with it.

Among the items in the bill:

-Indian tribal law enforcement will receive $225 million.

-The Smithsonian will get $25 million for facilities improvements.

-Consumers will receive rebates on energy efficient appliances to the tune of $300 million.

-$2 billion will be spent for electric car battery research.

-The digital television converter box coupon program will get $650 million.

-And a whopping $8 billion was included at the last minute for high speed rail.  (Some suggest this might fund a "Fantasy Land Express" from Disney World to Las Vegas, compliments of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who, not coincidentally, represents Nevada.)

Will these projects stimulate the economy?  Will they create jobs?  Wall Street doesn't think so and neither do the American people.

It is unclear how many more boondoggles will be uncovered in the 1000+ page bill.  People are still pouring through its mass of pages. Few, if any, members of Congress read the bill before it was passed.  Scare tactics well known to every salesman were used to facilitate its passage.  The President proclaimed the sky was falling.  An economic catastrophe was just around the corner.  Congress had to do "something" immediately to forestall disaster.  There was no time to read the fine print or to deliberate in a thoughtful manner.  And in lemming like fashion, the Democrats poured over the cliff.  It was their prerogative they claimed.  After all, as Mr. Obama declared, "We won the election."

American Enterprise Institute's Phil Levy explained the process quite well: "The crafting and selling of the stimulus package have been neither transparent, innovative, calm, nor bipartisan.  Much of the package was crafted behind closed doors.  The rush to push money out quickly left no time to develop creative new approaches.  The president's dire warnings of doom did little to soothe fears, particularly in those who had doubts about the stimulus package's efficacy."

Supposedly, something had to be done, and done fast.  Now we have something that looks like a lot of nothing.  And what will this something cost?  A Washington Watch study estimates that the bill will cost a typical U.S. family about $3,300.  Wouldn't we be better served if Congress had let each American family keep that $3,300?  Did Congress not think that the people who actually pay the taxes would be in the best position to decide how to use such monies to offset the effects of the current recession in their daily lives?  Obviously not.  This charade was just another installment of "Washington Knows Best" and the prevailing view of the political class that the people who pay the taxes are too stupid to know what to do with their own money.

Sadly, the American public recognized the problems of the stimulus package too late to prevent its passage.  On February 10th, President Obama claimed that the American public backed his plan, pointing to a Gallup poll released the day before showing that 51% of respondents believed that an economic stimulus of some kind was "critically important."  Yet, just 6 days later, on February 16th, a Rasmussen poll revealed that only 38% of Americans polled believed that the President's stimulus package would help the economy, while 29% thought it would hurt the economy and 24% thought it would not make much of a difference.  This realization came too late.  By the time President Obama signed the stimulus into law, over half of the American public lacked faith in it.

So what now?  The pork-laden package has been passed.  Only 27% is actually going directly to taxpayers—the rest is largely tied up in pork barrel projects and welfare programs which will likely stimulate more cynicism for the Washington political elites.  The American people will get a whopping extra $8 each week.  Now that's sure to turn the economy around!

What can the average citizen do now?  Not much.  Tighten your belts for now.  Work hard.  Save what you can and spend wisely.  Insist that the government and business sectors do the same.

Then come November 2010, let your voices be heard and make sure that every vote counts.  Either that, or break out the pitchforks!

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.
 

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