On Monday night, the Congressional Budget Office sent out a full analysis of the House stimulus bill. The new report elaborates on what last week's partial analysis disseminated by Republican Hill sources illuminated: The vaunted infrastructure spending will take years and years and years to kick in. Just 7 percent of the total $800 billion-plus stimulus funding would enter the economy by the end of this year.
The nonpartisan CBO tells eternal truths about government spending in the past, present and future:
"Frequently in the past, in all types of federal programs, a noticeable lag has occurred between sharp increases in budget authority and the resulting increases in outlays. Based on such experiences, CBO expects that federal agencies, along with states and other recipients of that funding, would find it difficult to properly manage and oversee a rapid expansion of existing programs so as to expend the added funds as quickly as they expend the resources provided for their ongoing programs.
"Brand-new programs pose additional challenges. Developing procedures and criteria, issuing the necessary regulations, and reviewing plans and proposals would make distributing money quickly even more difficult -- as can be seen, for example, in the lack of any disbursements to date under the loan programs established for automakers last summer to invest in producing energy-efficient vehicles. Throughout the federal government, spending for new programs has frequently been slower than expected and rarely been faster."
Translation: They can't spend the stimulus money fast enough to actually stimulate anything other than campaign coffers, media buzz and bureaucratic paperwork.
Obama asserted that there is no disagreement on the need to Do Something. He's wrong. Two hundred economists spoke up this week in an open letter disseminated by the libertarian Cato Institute: "More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s," they said. "More government spending did not solve Japan's 'lost decade' in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today."
And that must be the message of gimlet-eyed fiscal conservatives in Washington who should wear the "obstructionist" badge proudly. Obstructionism in the name of fiscal sanity is no vice. Panicked profligacy in the name of blind bipartisanship is no virtue.