OBAMA TO ELKHART: My Pork-Laden Stimulus Bill Has No Pork!
February 9, 2009 32 Comments
Understand, this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for a bill of this size. … There aren’t individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill…”
— Barack Obama, Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009.
…and I know that a new overpass downtown would make a big difference for businesses and families right here in Elkhart.”
— Barack Obama, Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009.
ATLANTA— Hey- at least Barack Obama isn’t selling a bridge to nowhere! As the popularity of the stimulus package continues to plummet, Barack Obama, Campaigner-in-Chief, is back to doing what he does best: hitting the campaign trail. Pundits are suggesting this is evidence Mr. Obama is finding life at the top of the executive ladder more difficult than anticipated. Not surprising to this observer.
Barack Obama visited Elkhart, Indiana yesterday, which is suffering through the worst of the current economic recession. Unemployment in Elkhart has spiked to 15%. I have personally spent some time in Elkhart, visiting several manufacturing plants. The city is very much a sleepy, middle-America town. Down-to-earth, blue-collar, working class people. Very good people, in fact. I enjoyed my stay there: eating butter burgers and custard from Culver’s restaurant; taking the short trip to South Bend for a visit to Notre Dame and a nice dinner on the town.
But as I have seen first-hand, Elkhart has been suffering through this severe recession for a longer time than the rest of us. Elkhart is, after all, the RV capital of the world. And RV sales began plummeting over two years ago, when gas prices began to peak. Elkhart has had the double-whammy of high gas prices followed by a severe drop in consumer spending, both of which have killed demand for RV’s. It is a tsunami of prolific proportions for the city and it is admittedly difficult to watch, as I can place some faces with those unemployment numbers.
But it is also extremely frustrating to me as I watch Mr. Obama barnstorm across the midwest, eliciting incredible fear and uncertainty to sell his flawed stimulus package. People are increasingly coming to believe that the stimulus package is a mess, loaded with pork and waste. And further, where FDR lifted our spirits by telling us all we have to fear is fear itself and where Ronald Reagan told us we are as a city set on a hill, Mr. Obama, who is our most rhetorically gifted-president in a generation, is telling us if we don’t pass his bill, then we face catastrophe. I am coming away with an impression that Mr. Obama has tipped past thinking he is actually helping people and is now more concentrated on winning his first policy battle by selling this very flawed bill. I think it has gotten personal for Mr. Obama- and that is not good for Elkhart or for us.
The AP has rightly pointed out that Mr. Obama is having it both ways on pork projects. The bill is laden with pork- the only difference is that the bill was front-loaded with it rather than having had pork stuffed into it on the back-end through the earmark process. In any other economic time, money for the arts, the national mall, and other pet projects would be viewed as pork. Not today, evidently. Not when it is being spent by Democrats who promised an end to the old ways of Washington.
Mr. Obama really has a tough sell in my mind: much of his economic policies are equivalent to George Bush’s from the final days of his presidency- only amplified. Bush did a $180 billion stimulus? Mr. Obama says, I will make mine $800 billion. Bush did a $700 billion bank bailout? Mr. Obama says, I will make mine bigger and broader in scope (we await Tim Geithner to see Mr. Obama’s final numbers). It is tough to repackage failed policies and spend your political capital to sell them, I will admit. But I’m learning it must be a lot easier to do that than bring true change.
At any rate, Elkhart, Indiana is facing catastrophe- Mr. Obama’s words do apply to that town. Having some new road projects will put some of those people back to work, I will not deny that. But as Michael Steele, the new RNC Chairman, has been so aptly saying, those construction jobs are only for a time. We cannot build roads and railways forever. In the end, you have to spur private investment and build sustainable jobs. Long-term investment is more likely to be spurred through more favorable tax laws and broader availability of capital. On the contrary, Mr. Obama’s plan will suck capital out of the markets to the tune of $800 billion, while providing few tax economically positive tax incentives.
Towards that end, and considering Mr. Obama’s seeming disregard for the long-term economic consequences of his actions, I wonder what the people of Elkhart will do later, if the economy does turn and Mr. Obama’s interests change towards pursuing aggressive environmental regulations? Many of those would drive the final nails in the coffin of the RV market. The pride of Elkhart will be sacrificed at the altar of global warming mania. And these proud folks might be left with nothing but a shovel in hand.
My point here is that the choices of government have consequences in a real market. For every massive action taken by the government, there is some other economic project or possibility that has to be put down. And some market distortion invariably occurs. In the end, it was no surprise to me to learn that Mr. Obama’s stimulus package may help in the short-term, but may also drive down GDP growth in the long-term, per the Congressional Budget Office. I am increasingly afraid Mr. Obama’s narrow-sited plan will do little to help Elkhart, or any of us.
Is it really worth all of the waste and fear?