Yes We Can! Recycle Old Ideas.

Crossposted at The Rockefeller Republican 

The current generation of Americans has often half-bemoaned the fact that it has had no great war, no great depression, no great call to national sacrifice in which to prove itself the way our forefathers did. 911 could have brought that if Bush had not made the national call to arms a call to shop. The War on Terror, while real, has not impacted the vast majority of citizens in the way WWII or even Viet Nam did. Now, in a tragic case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, America is facing crises, economic and military, the likes of which have not been seen for nearly 100 years. And in an almost poetic twist of fate we have an historically elected president to try to deal with them.

After over a year of rhetoric and debate the time has finally come for Obama, and the Democrats he helped sweep into power, to govern. The first order of business is getting the country back on its feet economically and so the battle over stimulus has begun. It presents the first opportunity for conservatives to voice their concerns over the direction the new administration is taking the country. After an hour or so trolling the net for economists’ views on a stimulus plan’s effect on reversing the effects of a recession of the magnitude we now face, it seems that opinions are legitimately divided. For every expert who claims we can spend our way out of danger there is one who says the short term effects will not amount to much, and the inflation and incurred debt will cripple us in the long term. What to do?

It would seem that, like it or not, a large-scale stimulus in the $800 billion – $1 trillion range is going to happen. What conservatives need to focus on is doing their best to steer the money towards those things which will offer the most reward and least risk, such as tax cuts, investments in energy independence and eliminating waste. Unfortunately as the plan now stands there seems to be little in the way of forward looking investments that will create real economic growth.

Below are some of the highlights of misdirected funds and what the conservative response could be.

$120 billion in education grants & state aide to prevent cut backs
While educational funding and the merits of federal involvement can be honestly debated, it seems clear that this money will do nothing to create jobs or act as an immediate stimulus to the economy when that money will simply be spent to continue the programs of the past. If we want to direct money toward education, why not revamp our trade schools to provide certificate level training in many of the growth industries such as technology and health care. Another innovative idea that has been proposed is to change the way we structure secondary education so that people could become certified in professions such as accounting, business management & technicians without needing to attend 4-year colleges.

$129 billion to help states with Medicaid
The amount of Medicaid fraud and abuse has been termed “staggering,” but experts have not been able to determine exactly how much the program loses each year. Throwing more money at the system without real meaningful reform will not help either in the short term or the long term. We need to look with revolutionary eyes at how we provide and deliver health care in this country.

$4 billion on preventative health care
This is an area that could actually stimulate some growth and lead to long term savings in our health care costs, yet the plan only allows for $4 billion? The U.S. leads the world in medical advances, branching out into preventative care is a logical extension. Obesity rates are jumping off the charts and the future looks even worse. Instead of pumping nearly $130 billion into a system rife with fraud (Medicaid) shouldn’t we be creating jobs in areas that will help our kids’ futures? This just shows the short sightedness of the plan’s authors

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected less than half of the $355 billion that House Democrats want to spend on highways, bridges and other job-creating investments is likely to be used before the end of fiscal 2010.
This means the recession will be well on its way to ending by the time states get around to spending the so-called stimulus. And even the money that will be spent on-time really won’t do that much in the long term. New roads are not the future of transportation. I argued earlier for forward looking transportation investments in maglev trains, fuel cell technology and the like. Revamped roads and bridges will look nice but add little to our national economy or development. One can almost see the pork-filled projects that are likely to be included in this portion of the plan by the time state governments get through with it.

Now for some numbers that seem to be little more than pork for local constituents:

$6 billion to fund the weatherizing of modest income homes
$6 billion to provide high-speed Internet to rural areas
$200 million in renovations to the Mall in DC
$50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts
$360 million to slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases

A third of a $billion for government approved condoms. Really?

Additionally, some argue that the plan doesn't contain enough safeguards on how the money is spent, and that some measures are designed to circumvent normal spending procedures. It seems likely that some officials are using the package to try to enact major shifts in federal policy, such as getting government back into the business of building public housing. More Medicaid, more public housing, largely useless and wasteful spending projects, billions of dollars to prop up a fundamentally flawed educational system, does any of this sound like a plan to move us into the economy of the future? Clearly not. Rather this sounds like an endorsement of the status quo.

Obama won the election and the Democrats were swept into office largely on his coat tails. Now that we are seeing the first major result of the nation’s shift to the left it is up to conservatives: Republicans, Libertarians and even our friends the Blue Dog Democrats to stand up for some common sense in terms of what we need to spend our future on. Much has been made of The Greatest Generation, and rightly so. Now is our chance. How will we stack up in the annals of history? Will we rise to the challenge, make dutiful sacrifices and pave the way to a brighter future? Or will we bow under the pressure of tired ideas and simply do more of what got us here? It is up to us.

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