On the Republicans born-again fear and loathing of earmarks, pork, and the prerogative of the Congressional majority.
Criticisms of the stimulus
Earmarks and so called pork never really bothered me that much per se. After all, it's right there in the legislation, and our leaders vote for it, right? The artful language of some earmarks is a bit of an annoyance, but no one is really fooled. At least, not the congress staffers who actually read the bill. They all know exactly what is going on. It's all there in the Congressional record for everyone to see for eternity, you can even view the bill on their web page.
In addition, what else do we expect our congressmen to do, except direct the spending at their constituents? One district's jobs program looks like pork to everyone else. The Congressmen come back to their district and cut the ribbon at the new $50 million Ronald Reagan museum in some cornfield outside Dekalb, and the media takes his picture, and the people from Dekalb reelect him for doing such a great job for his district.
The problem comes in that all 535 of the motherfuckers are trying to do the same thing for THEIR districts, and they discovered that they can simply borrow from the future to pay for it
I'll go out on a limb here. I don't need a tax break. My TOTAL effective income tax rate averages less than 20% over the last 20 years (excluding social security, which is not a tax but a mandatory annuity investment plan and the medicare plan, which is a mandatory individual health insurance policy). I am upper middle class. 20% may seem like a lot, but not if you consider we live in one of the best places on the planet to live. Show me a country that is as nice to live in, with lower effective tax rates. My tax rate is reasonable. The national debt, on the other hand, is scary.
I am even less bothered about "pork" in a STIMULUS bill. Pork is the POINT of a stimulus bill. This is where the government directly injects money into the hands of people to go spend. Much better to research biofuels and even to build museums in cornfields than give the money to banks so they can speculate on T Bills, or buy up other banks so they can eliminate the jobs. I'd be happy if the government dropped rolls of $100 bills from airplanes. The key here is to make it DIRECT spending. The test of success is not: "can you prove that this will create jobs?" The test is: "will this money get spent on buying stuff or paying wages, soon?"
So you give the money to some guy who wants to build lawnmowers that run on french fries. Great. Unless he is a complete scammer, he's going to buy french fries and pay a couple high school kids to test drive the mowers, even if the things never work. On the other hand, if he uses the money to pay down his credit card debt, or invest in Madoff's ponzi scheme, or start a hedge fund to play the currency carry trade, THEN, it's wasted.
The government really did invent the internet and did the basic research to cure many diseases, and did invent the atomic bomb. Every one of those projects looked like pork. Just imagine the bill language: "funding to pay German scientists to work in a basement under a football stadium in experiments at making atoms smash into each other."
The other thing that doesn't really bug me is that this is some sort of Democrat "wish list." Well, duh. The Dems won. They get to do their stuff. That's why we have elections. What would be really weird is to have one party win and then set out to pursue the other party's wish list. I am sure if the GOP was in the majority they'd be giving the Dems a big share of their wish list. Right. Remember, the GOP used 9/11 to pursue THEIR wish list. Now THAT's exploiting a crisis to further your agenda.
The problem with pork, aside from the deficit spending (excluding a stimulus in a recession, which is by definition deficit), is that people don't pay attention to the fine print on a routine basis. And there is no follow up programs to find out if it was a scam. And so too much of the money ends up in numbered accounts in the Cayman Islands. In terms of stimulus, money spent on wages and spent on things is generally not money wasted.
We do need to be concerned with "who" benefits. But the problem is not a question of who clearly benefits from the bill in comparison to who does not so clearly benefit. The problem is why is it that the frequency of giving large amounts of money to politicians tends to correlate with being on the receiving end of large portions of the money? This is a campaign contribution problem, not an earmark problem. You want earmarks to make sense? Then reform the campaign system.
One thing that DOES bug me is that we are all worked up about a $1 trillion stimulus bill. Meanwhile, in mostly secrecy and out of the spotlight, the Treasury and Fed has committed over $10 trillion in bailouts and loans and guarantees, and all of it is directed at a very short list of very connected companies in the banking and auto industries. Talk about pork for the piggies, that's an entire year's of GDP directed at about five huge banks and the big three auto firms, who got a wee taste of the action too.
Ah well. The good news is that with the GOP in the minority, they have rediscovered that they oppose pork and secrecy and hypocrisy. So, if we would all cooperate and forget everything they said and did for the last eight years, we can let them pretend to be outraged now.
My vote: pass the bill and move the fuck on.
The thing we should all be focusing on is not this bill. The thing we should pay attention to is the proposal to create a "toxic" bank to absorb the banks' bad debt. THAT, my friends, is a $1 to $3 trillion con job, directed at getting you and me to help the CEO of Citibank find a place to dump all his problems.