As the economic stimulus bill makes its way through Congress, a host of oddball recipients from ATV riders to TV viewers preparing for the digital conversion stand to benefit.
By Jim Angle
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
When Congress opens up a gusher of money, every special interest in the country reaches for a bucket. And as lawmakers negotiate an economic stimulus bill that so far is expected to cost more than $800 billion, the scenario is no different.
The House passed its version of the bill Wednesday evening, and a host of oddball recipients from ATV riders to TV viewers preparing for the digital conversion stand to benefit.
But critics question why such narrowly tailored add-ons -- which have little, if any, prospect of creating large numbers of new jobs -- are in an emergency bill aimed at stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
"The stimulus bill delivers on a lot of promises that Democrats have made over the past decade to special interest groups," said William Beach, director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis. "This is their time to kind of bring home the bacon."
Among the funding measures included in the proposal are $25 million for new ATV trails; $400 million for the National Endowment for the Arts; $400 million for global warming research; $335 million for the Centers for Disease Control to combat sexually-transmitted diseases; and $650 million coupons to subsidize TV viewers for digital television conversion.
"I think it's a real problem that things that are not genuinely related to stimulus are being pushed into the stimulus bill, which is then being put on a fast track that has to be done by February," said Alan D. Viard, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
"We have hundreds of billions of dollars shoved into this package without taking the time to deliberately consider what amounts we need and what the effective way would be to spend it," he said.
The White House, though, argues that the stimulus package is indeed aimed at creating jobs.
"I think that you have a hard economic argument to make that paving a road, or fixing a bridge, or building a wind turbine, or laying a power grid doesn't create jobs," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Those kinds of projects do create job, but critics argue there is relatively little for those kinds of projects in there: Of the $819 billion package, $30 billion has been set aside for infrastructure spending.
"If there's going to be a stimulus part to this whole effort, it's going to be in the shovel-ready construction projects on our nation's highways and byways," Beach said. "But that's just a ridiculously small number."
House Democratic leaders reluctantly removed two programs that had drawn fire: $200 million for new contraceptive service and $20 million to renovate the National Mall.
But another problem exists. Even money directed at infrastructure can face delays.
For example, a proposal to spend $2.9 billion for new military hospitals says the money couldn't be spent for years -- unless Congress sets aside obstacles of its own creation.
And throwing money at problems, no matter how pressing, does have a downside. The Congressional Budget Office says borrowing $820 billion will cost $347 billion more in interest, which of course pushes the total cost of the stimulus package to more than $1 trillion.