Sep 142010
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act constru...
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Everybody you talk to has an opinion about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, better known as the Stimulus. Enacted in February of 2009, the program was intended to shore up short term consumer spending, provide aid to states and invest in projects to create jobs. With a total price tag originally estimated to be $787 billion, the Stimulus was originally supported by 51% of Americans, but a year and a half later, only 29% believed that it had actually helped the economy.

A Rasmussen Reports poll taken in July showed that not only did so few Americans believe the Stimulus had helped, but that 43% believed that it hurt the economy. That same poll revealed that 69% of those surveyed believed tax cuts were a better way to create jobs than more government spending. Without doubt, these attitudes are reason for concern, but they fall far short of telling the whole story.

Things actually get much more confusing when the results of a Gallup poll taken in June are also considered. The survey asked people if they would be in favor of Congress passing legislation to “Approve additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy,” and 60% of those polled answered in the affirmative with only 38% in opposition.

So, 60% of Americans support more stimulus spending, but 43% believe that what was spent through July had actually hurt the economy, and 69% believe tax cuts would create more jobs. What can explain this incongruence?

The answer is likely found in the American proclivity to swallow political talking points without any verification of facts. A revealing example of this dynamic concerns the Obama tax cuts offered through the Stimulus. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in February of this year showed that 24% of respondents believed that Obama had increased taxes, while only 13% believed they had been reduced. Amongst Tea Partiers, only 2% believed taxes had decreased under Obama, and a whopping 44% believed they had increased. The opinions evinced in these polls have nothing to do with the reality that the Stimulus included 25 different tax cuts that benefitted 95% of all Americans.

Sadly, voter opinion seems to track much more closely to political rhetoric than anything substantive or factual. Republicans have consistently spread the message that Obama will raise people’s taxes, therefore people believe that he has. They’ve also espoused the position that tax cuts best stimulate the economy, and although the vast majority of economists believe tax cuts to be the worst form of economic stimulus, a majority of Americans adhere to the conservative falsehood.

This dynamic seems also to be at the root of public opinion regarding the Stimulus. Arguably the Obama administration’s most successful program to date, it has been credited by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) with adding as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increasing the number of people employed by between 1.4 and 3.3 million. According to Mark Zandi, former economic advisor to John McCain, unemployment would be 11.5% instead of 9.5% without the Stimulus. But still 43% of Americans believe the Stimulus has hurt the economy.

The stimulus has paid out 77% of the $288 billion in tax relief, but only 64% of the $224 billion in entitlement funds, with direct investment funds trailing still further. Thus far, barely 54% of the $275 billion slated for contracts and grants has been paid, mostly because of the long lead times resulting from a shortage of “shovel-ready” projects. But as the projects ramp up, the real promise for future jobs, new industries, lower healthcare costs, more efficient government and improved energy independence will all begin to materialize.

More than $23 billion in contracts, grants and loans has come to California, funding over 18,000 awards. One major project right here in Contra Costa County is the fourth bore on the Caldecott Tunnel. Nearly $200 million was allocated to Caltrans for the project that would not have proceeded without the ARRA. In addition, direct local funding within Contra Costa County has funded 46 contracts and 252 grants totaling nearly $300 million. Investments include $43 million for transportation, $22 million for public safety, $14 million for energy, $126 million for education and more funding to assist with health and human services, housing, labor, technology and water/environment. Together, these projects have created nearly 500 new jobs, saved many times that amount and promise to create more as projects move forward.

Unfortunately, the Stimulus success stories are not what most people are fed through the media. Unless an individual happens to be working on a Stimulus funded project, their opinion is likely shaped by the spurious claims levied by its political opponents. People like House Minority Leader, John Boehner and half-term Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin have made it a practice to disparage the Stimulus without any facts to back their claims.  Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) even went so far as to create a list of “wasteful” Stimulus projects that was more a waste of time to create or read than anything else.

The Stimulus could have been more effective. There’s little doubt that money could have been better directed to achieve maximum job creation, but to say that the entire program “has gotten us nowhere,” as John Boehner stated recently, is nothing short of a bald-faced lie. The Republican obstructionists have succeeded in using deception and distortion to convince American citizens that stimulus spending is ineffective and that tax cuts are a preferred option. Both economic theory and American history say otherwise.

The Stimulus has raised the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs by as many as 4.8 million. It is also creating new export industries, moving our nation forward with alternative energy and laying the foundation for lower healthcare costs and more efficient government. The most significant issue with the Stimulus is that it was too small, and the national conversation should now be focused on a second wave. But instead we toil with Republican subterfuge and self-serving delay.

Wake up America! Those who criticize the Stimulus, raise concerns about the deficit and at the same time fight for tax cuts for the super-rich, don’t give a care about your wellbeing. Open your eyes and see them for what they are — Republicans.

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