Capitol Idea: Stimulus is Not a Four Letter Word

Road and highway construction was the biggest single line infrastructure item in the final economic stimulus bill. Projects funded by the stimulus, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, have a sign marking them, like this one in Middletown, R.I.

I’ll let you on a little secret about what goes on here in Washington and reveal how policy wonks in Washington really have fun. (And, no, since this is a family friendly column, we’ll leave the likes of Anthony Weiner and his ilk aside for the moment.)

The hot game inside the Beltway is for economists, journalists, and other assorted scribblers coming up with yet more proof that the 2009 economic stimulus plan actually worked.  It’s like the egghead equivalent of tic-tac-toe around here. It really is. The Congressional Budget Office, as well as Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi and Princeton economist Alan Blinder have all gotten their cracks at it.

And everyone here eventually gets his or her turn. The latest player is policy analyst Michael Linden, who has cleverly turned stimulus opponent Douglas Holtz-Eakin’s own methology against him to prove, yet again, that despite all the tea party bluster, the stimulus did indeed create millions of jobs and add growth to the American economy when it needed it the most.

The problem is that while all of this stimulus-proving has been great fun for us in the capital, few of us have been getting the rest of the country in on the game. That includes, most importantly, President Obama. Which is odd, because, he helped drive the stimulus in the first place. And when the president does sometimes dare mention his stimulus, as he did at a press conference last month, he lumps it in with the Bush tax cuts and paying for war, sounding like he kind of regrets it in a way.

That relative silence and timidity on the subject has allowed tea partyers, conservatives and other opponents to denigrate the stimulus either as a failure, “socialism,” or both. Allowing the stimulus to be mislabeled in this way now poses a great danger as the country now is teetering back on recession, and needs more, not less, stimulus.

The problem, as the nation knows, is rampant unemployment. We need to create jobs, lots of them. Lately, the president has been talking more about patent reform and new free-trade agreements as job-creators. While such measures may create jobs, they will come perhaps years down the road at a time when we need to put people to work today. The only way we can do that is more stimulus. Americans, by roughly a 2-to-1 margin, say unemployment as a problem is even bigger than the national deficit and debt.

Naysayers, of course, will say more stimulus is a lost cause. There’s no way the Republicans would let it pass Congress, they argue. As things stand, that’s probably true. That’s why President Obama has to climb aboard Air Force One and get onto his bus tours, and start hauling on stage with him some of those millions of ordinary Americans who have jobs today thanks to the stimulus plan, and let them tell their stories.

Particularly, the president has to parachute into the districts of all of the hypocritical Republicans who slam stimulus on the one hand, but put their hands out for its cash on the other. Republicans like Rep. Michele Bachmann, who criticizes the stimulus as an “orgy of spending” out on the campaign trail, but at the same time requests stimulus dollars to create 1,500 jobs for something called the Big Lake Rail Park in her Minnesota district .

Bachmann isn’t alone. Conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama also wanted his turn at the stimulus, for cash to help an ethanol plant in his state, to create 750 jobs. And there are many others, too. President Obama needs to criss-cross the country, exposing these Republican frauds and liars, helping the citizens in their states and districts tell fellow Americans how the stimulus has helped. The president has to do this as long as it takes until voters not only are asking for new stimulus, but are demanding it.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Stimulus is Not a Four Letter Word on Blogcritics.

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