Playing Defense vs. Playing Offense
Joe Biden took to the pages of the New York Times to defend the stimulus package on Sunday.
The single largest part of the Recovery Act — more than one-third of it — is tax cuts: 95 percent of working Americans have seen their taxes go down as a result of the act. The second-largest part — just under a third — is direct relief to state governments and individuals. The money is allowing state governments to avoid laying off teachers (14,000 in New York City alone), firefighters and police officers and preventing states’ budget gaps from growing wider.
And those hardest hit by the recession are getting extended unemployment insurance, health coverage and other help to get through these tough times. The bottom line is that two-thirds of the Recovery Act doesn’t finance "programs," but goes directly to tax cuts, state governments and families in need, without red tape or delays.
As for the final third, the act is financing the largest investment in roads since the creation of the Interstate highway system; construction projects at military bases, ports, bridges and tunnels; long overdue Superfund cleanups; the creation of clean energy jobs of the future; improvements in badly outdated rural water systems; upgrades to overtaxed mass transit and rail systems; and much more. These investments create jobs today — and support economic growth for years to come. Far from being a negative, the wide array of these investments is needed given the incredible diversity of the American economy.
Projects are being chosen without earmarks or political consideration, and many contracts have come in under budget. More than 30,000 projects have been approved, and thousands are already posted on recovery.gov — providing a high level of transparency and accountability. Taxpayers should know that we have not hesitated to reject proposals that have failed to meet our merit-based standards.
None of this is false - in fact, some of us objected to spending so much of the Recovery Act on non-stimulative tax cuts, which some, though not all, of the tax cuts in the package are. But when faced with an economy like this, you can do one of two things. You can defend the actions taken to this point, or you can look at the economic picture as it is, and make changes based on those evolving conditions. This would require admissions that the package may have been too small, but it's better than the alternative, defending a faulty program while unemployment heads into double digits. That's why it's sad to see Nancy Pelosi tossing aside talk of a second stimulus. By the time people realize something has to be done, it'll be too late to do it.
I recognize the political difficulty in getting another round of stimulus passed, but it becomes impossible if nobody is willing to say what needs to be said.
Also, Mr. Vice President, a little less emphasis on projects coming in "under budget" when the whole point is to get as much money out into the economy as possible would be helpful.