To argue that the dysfunction of the federal government is purely a Republican issue would be naïve. Long unable to move forward on Democratic legislation, the new Congressional majority of 2009 was quick to let loose and take advantage of a Democratic executive branch.
The ARRA was the first significant legislation to wear the stamp of a Congress controlled by Democrats. Although it has been successful, in spite of Republican spin, one has to wonder how effective it might have been if more keenly honed to address directly the specific issue of job creation. It’s true that it included $288 billion in tax relief that cut the tax bills of 95% of Americans, and that it also sent $224 billion to aid the states and pin up Medicaid and unemployment insurance. But the $275 billion that went to direct investment was not, like the other portions, intended to sustain current spending and break the fall. It was allocated for the express purpose of creating jobs.
It is within this direct investment component of the stimulus that the Democrats established their most resounding successes, but unfortunately it also exhibits their most disappointing failures. There’s little room for legitimate complaint about the $90 billion allocated for clean energy or the $20 billion that will fund the digitizing of medical records. Both of these programs will pay dividends to American taxpayers far into the future. But the vast sum of grant money distributed into the black hole of government gives cause for concern and lends substance to the Republican argument that Democrats are all about bigger government.
Though the data is not coded to ease such extraction, a brief analysis of the information provided for download at http://www.recovery.gov/ reveals some interesting facts. The data representing all allocations through the end of June includes 347,915 awards of contracts, grants and loans, totaling $237 billion. Interestingly, a query of the data looking for “recipients” with a name that includes “school” or “education” finds 59,916 awards totaling $47 billion. Similarly, a search of “college” or “university” nets 26,047 awards for nearly $17 billion. Looking for funding that went to cities, a query of “city of” returns 16,364 award and another $17 billion; counties apparently received on the order of $12 billion, state departments of transportation around $19 billion, and other state departments and housing authorities close to $20 billion more.
All told, on the order of $131 billion appears to have gone to government organizations. This is not to say that none of this funding found its way into the private sector, or that thousands of private sector jobs were not created. Many of these government agencies, from school districts to transportation departments, maintain a practice of subcontracting to industry vendors. But once the money is fed into the bureaucratic machine, suspicion arises, and rightfully so. Such practice is viewed as more SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fouled Up) because accountability and transparency are severely obscured. The result is that both the motivation and effectiveness of the investments is appropriately called into question.
Fortunately for Republicans, not long after the Stimulus, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. From that point on, steadfast Republican obstruction has reigned supreme over timid Democratic initiative. As stated above, the Republicans, without doubt, deserve their share of the blame in this, but if not for the Democrat’s extreme lack of intestinal fortitude, much more meaningful legislation could have been passed. From healthcare to finance reform, the Democrats have allowed themselves to be bullied, never once requiring the filibustering Republicans to actually stand up and control the floor of the Senate. Instead, each time they compromised and produced diluted legislation of questionable worth.
In the end, the most well defined accomplishment of our near completely dysfunctional Congress is a starkly polarized populace. Americans on both sides of the debate blame the other. The Tea Party blindly carries the banner of smaller government and continues to grow in its numbers, railing against an ineffective government but upholding positions that only promise to make it more so. When will we learn?
Government is not the enemy, but the sorry excuse in Washington sure is. The solutions are before us, but the path we’ve chosen, through two political parties that fight harder for control than for the wellbeing of the nation is leading us to destruction. The American people need to wake up, to refuse to listen to anymore political rhetoric and to start asking more intelligent questions. America doesn’t need smaller government, nor does it need larger — it needs effective government, and it needs it now.