Editorial -- Barry MacDonald
Setting the Stage
The president made a mockery of his campaign promises with the tactics he employed in passing his economic stimulus package in February. The first consequential act of his presidency should wake up America. A pattern has emerged: this man cannot be taken at his word.
At a news conference on February 9 he set the stage for the American Recovery and Reinvestment bill. He said the country was in a "full-blown crisis" and a failure to act could "turn a crisis into a catastrophe" from which the nation might not recover. The stimulus bill was about fixing the economy, about putting people back to work:
. . . at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. . . . Doing nothing is not an option.
American workers are suffering; however, whether "only the government" can bring recovery is dubious. But for a man who talked so much about hope during the campaign he has shown skill in playing upon peoples' fears at a propitious moment.
The revealing moment in the passage of the bill came during the House-Senate conference at which the two bodies compromised their differing versions of the legislation. Firstly, no Republicans were allowed to negotiate in the conference -- so much for bipartisanship. But most importantly, the conference had completed its work by Thursday afternoon, February 12; the text was posted on a web site for members to read at 11:00 p.m.; and debate on the compromise began in the House at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Members of the House had ten hours to read the 1,071 pages of the bill. No one had time to digest the details. No one could comprehend its contents.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke on Thursday about the importance of reading the language of the bill -- referring only to the portion on school construction -- but she seemed oblivious to the larger point:
Around here language means a lot. Words weigh a ton and one person's understanding of a spoken description might vary from another's. We wanted to see it. And not only just I had to see it. I had to show it to my colleagues and my caucus. We wanted to take all the time that was necessary to make sure it was right. --Connie Hair, Human Events
While lawmakers remained in the dark, lobbyists had an advantage. Paul Bedard of U.S. News and World Report wrote:
We're receiving E-mails from Capitol Hill staffers expressing frustration that they can't get a copy of the stimulus bill agreed to last night at a price of $789 billion. What's more, staffers are complaining about who does have a copy: K Street Lobbyists. E-mails one key Democratic staffer: "K Street has the bill or chunks of it, already, and the congressional offices don't. So, the Hill is getting calls from the press (because it's leaking out) asking us to confirm or talk about what we know -- but we can't do that because we haven't seen the bill. Anyway, peeps [people] up here are sort of a combo of confused and like, 'Is this really happening?'" Reporters pressing for details, meanwhile, are getting different numbers from different offices, especially when seeking the details of specific programs.
Worse, there seem to be several different versions of what was agreed upon, with some officials circulating older versions of the package that seems to still be developing. Leadership aids said that it will work out later today and promised that lawmakers will get time to review the bill before Friday's vote.
CNSNews.com reported that Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said "No, I don't think anyone will have the chance to [read the entire bill]." Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN) said:
The Democrats have thrown this at us very last-minute. . . . That's why the rule of thumb in the United States Congress should be, "When in doubt, vote no," because the devil is in the details, and that's why this stimulus is not worthy of support.
Representative John Boozman (R-AK) said:
The American public expects for us to get in and know what we're voting on. . . . But there are very few members from Congress that are going to have time to actually read this thing. --Ryan Byrnes, CNSNews.com
The president wanted the bill passed and ready to sign by Monday -- he signed it on Tuesday, February 17.
What's in the Bill?
God knows maybe. A long list can be found at the Wall Street Journal's web site published on February 17. There are hundreds of listings. Education, healthcare, and scientific research for renewable energy are well rewarded.
What's not clear is how many government agencies the money will be filtered through on the way to its destination, whether the money is doled out in proper measure or is wasted, or how quickly it will be spent. The federal government is dictating to state governments the manner in which the money must be spent, which may be unconstitutional.
It takes an army of Washington staffers to write such a bill in haste. They must have been toiling their lives away in Washington in preparation. It's hard to know what secrets are hidden in its details.
Will this bill actually stimulate the economy and put people back to work? Nobody knows, maybe God does. But government does not have a good track record in spending money.
One egregious change has come to light: Bill Clinton's welfare reform bill has been undone. Clinton's reform reduced the number of people receiving welfare by two-thirds. The poverty rate plummeted and millions of people, many of them minorities, found work. It was one of the genuine achievements of his presidency.
This bill restores a perverse incentive for government to add people to the welfare rolls. Robert Rector, a welfare and entitlement analyst for the Heritage Foundation writes:
For the first time since 1996, the federal government would begin paying states bonuses to increase their welfare caseload. Indeed, the new welfare system created by the stimulus bills is actually worse than the old AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] program because it rewards the states more heavily to increase their caseloads. Under the stimulus bills, the federal government will pay 80 percent of the cost for each new family that a state enrolls in welfare; this matching rate is far higher than it was under AFDC.
So instead of stimulating the economy and putting people back to work, as the president promised, this facet of the bill would do the reverse: foster increased dependency and inhibit productivity.
Who is responsible? Their names aren't reported. Didn't Barack Obama promise to make government transparent? To do away with secrecy? Yes he did. Can he be blamed for killing welfare reform -- he didn't write the bill himself after all? No one knows who did.
President Obama is responsible, and he is entirely responsible. Only through the weight of imminent catastrophe and the frenzied dash to spend money could this have happened. Under normal circumstances there would have been public hearings and the whole nation would have known that the Democrats were trying to kill welfare reform.
With television cameras present, and welfare reform the only issue under consideration, even Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), though he might not have been ashamed to try (as a normal politician would be), would have known that it was folly to gut welfare reform in America during normal times.
Barack Obama brought the panic necessary to get the job done. He provided the cover of secrecy with a mass of simultaneous activity.
Barack's Words at Variance with His Deeds
Barack Obama has posted his program for "ethics reform" at the web site http://www.barackobama.com/issues/ethics (as of March 13, 2009). He says:
Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House web site for five days.
President Obama gives the impression that he wants an open, deliberative process, but in the event he does precisely the opposite; he does exactly what he criticizes others for doing. It is as though he made the statement to put his opponents off guard, and then he takes them by surprise. Note the escape hatch he left himself: he will not sign any "non-emergency bill . . . " but of course the stimulus bill was an emergency measure, so he has the out he needs.
We need to be watchful in the future for the escape hatches in his language, as they will point to his true intentions.
He even insulates himself from criticism, as it was the Democrats in Congress who wrote the legislation and speeded the bill through -- but it was he who spoke of a looming "catastrophe" from which the nation would never recover if immediate action were not taken. He set the strategy, his congressional lieutenants did the deed.
It is symbolic that he chose to sign the bill at a news event in Colorado without any congresspeople present (against custom). He was making a statement: it is his bill, his accomplishment.
The above quote is not a single instance of a policy position to which he is lightly committed; the quote reflects the many promises he made throughout the campaign. On his first full day in office he said: "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."
He said that it would be impossible to sneak earmarks into bills, that laws would be open to the public. He said that secrecy was to be a thing of the past, that the American people would know the contents of bills. Every earmark would be online for the public to see. However, there are many earmarks in the stimulus bill and the lawmakers requesting them are undisclosed.
He had especially harsh words for lobbyists and special interests: They would have no place in his administration. Yet as we see above the K street lobbyists knew the contents of the bill before the members of Congress, so evidently their access to information remains undiminished.
Here are two additional quotes from President Obama's web site on ethics:
Shine Light on Earmarks and Pork Barrel Spending: Obama's Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.
Close the Revolving Door on Former and Future Employers: No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.
But on February 3, less than two weeks after his inauguration, the news organization Politico put together a list of former lobbyists appointed to positions by the Obama administration:
Eric Holder, Tom Vilsack, William Lynn, William Corr, David Hayes, Mark Patterson, Ron Klain, Mona Sutphen, Melody Barnes, Cecilia Munoz, Patrick Gaspard, Michael Strautmanis, [and Tom Daschle, who was paid millions for his political connections but never registered as a lobbyist].
During the campaign Obama spoke so often about the malign influence of lobbyists that his position on lobbyists acquired maximum emphasis. He pointed out repeatedly that lobbyists were a principal example of the corrupt ways of "business as usual" in Washington. Even an inattentive viewer of a five-minute news clip couldn't help but take away Obama's disparagement of lobbyists -- yet here is Obama doing exactly the opposite of what he promised.
The point is not that appointing lobbyists is corrupt; often they are uniquely knowledgeable and situated so as to be most qualified. Every presidency has employed lobbyists. The point is that Obama chose to make lobbyists central villains, and then he appointed a boat-load of them to his team.
Obama's words are a ruse. His intent is to create a virtuous impression, but he will not be bound by what he says; he may do the opposite of what he says. And he is counting on the complacency of the nightly-news broadcasters, The New York Times, and The Washington Post not to report the difference between his words and actions. *
"A politician will do anything to keep his job -- even become a patriot." --William Randolph Hearst
Some of the quotes following each article have been gathered by The Federalist Patriot at: http://FederalistPatriot.US/services.asp.