BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
There is a great deal of confusion among the public regarding the various spending measures which have passed or have been proposed to Congress. To some, Washington has been cursed as a modern Tower of Babel.
Of course, one reason for this is that there have been so many different bills during the past month or so.
Everything seems amazingly clear to President Obama, as he exhibits a true capacity for multi-tasking as claimed during the campaign. When questioned on his priorities and what would come first, second, or third, he responded then, “I can do more than one thing at a time.” Indeed he can. It is the rest of us who are having trouble.
We have had more than one thing on the table at a time, and there has been a sequence of spending measures which may become confused. Thus it appears that we may have become victims of a new curse of Babel in Washington.
Another source of confusion has been the same negative Republican response to all of these proposals. Republicans rail against every proposal. They confuse people with their redundant, echoing arguments with the same language. Terms like “wasteful spending,” “earmarks,” “liberal,” and “socialistic” occur frequently. It is not clear which of Obama’s proposals they are addressing at that moment. Their arguments are the same.
Let us take a few minutes to spell out those measures about which there has been confusion in the minds of some members of the public.
First, there was the TARP legislation, which was enacted toward the close of the George W. Bush presidency in the fall. This is better known as the “bank bailout” bill. Bush officials then promptly handed out half of the nearly $1 trillion package to troubled banks and financial institutions with few strings and no accountability. Everybody has been angry at the way those business executives have handled these funds.
Second, after the car companies were also helped a little by the last administration, there remains about half of that TARP financial relief package still to apportion. The Obama Administration has been setting up a plan to use this to relieve the foreclosure problems, the “toxic assets” problem, and to shore up institutions that open up lines of credit. Stiff accountability is demanded.
People are now actually getting mortgages refinanced and relief if they qualify and play by the rules. Financial institutions are actually lending money again to qualified borrowers, including college students.
Third, there was the stimulus bill out there. It passed with three Republican votes in the Senate, and it is now taking effect. Projects are starting everywhere. Republicans like to call these “pork” and “earmarks,” when they are neither. Only the general purposes are named, and the projects are all determined at the state and local level. Nobody’s pet contractor, pet local project, or pet charity is named. There are NO EARMARKS, period.
Tax cuts for 95% of the citizenry are now in effect this calendar year. It does not raise taxes, yet Republicans are accusing the president of raising taxes on America. Not so.
Confusion and misinformation seems often to be fueled by Republican politicians and by radio and TV commentators of their persuasion. However, some legitimate news people do not make differences clear.
Fourth, there is the confusion of TWO budgets.
One budget was just passed by Congress and signed quietly by the President. This is for the fiscal year beginning last September under Bush Administration planning and running late for the last six months. It is a budget that should have been passed nine months ago. It is primarily the work of the last Congress, some of whom are no longer in office. This is NOT Mr. Obama’s budget.
In this fiscal year budget are hundreds of earmarks, as has been the custom. These are proportionally divided between Republicans and Democrats as per their representation in Congress – with 40% being Republican earmarks. Both party’s members have pork, some good and some not. Some 25 Republican senators with earmarks in the bill voted against it, then claimed credit for these at home.
Mr. Obama has explained that he is reluctantly accepting this budget with earmarks, because it would create a lot of problems to veto the bill on that basis, creating an impasse in Congress and slowing up actions on pressing matters. He’s saving his ammunition for the new budget.
Then finally, there is the “new budget” [for FY 2010 beginning next September]. This should be differentiated from all the other issues and measures mentioned above. This one really raises Republican hackles. But it is not always clear from their rhetoric just which of President Obama’s proposals they are attacking. Perhaps they don’t know.
This budget runs a huge deficit, something close to $1 trillion. That concerns some people of both political parties. However, the major reason for this is that, for the first time, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are brought onto the budget, and not handled in individual special deficit measures.
An added reason for the deficit is the continuation of some “stimulus spending” in areas such as education and job creation. A few areas of government are expanded such as FDA regulators, nutrition programs, Pell grants for college students, public transit money, and Head Start programs.
This new budget keeps the tax cuts for 97% of the taxpayers, but allows Bush tax cuts for the super wealthy to expire. It cuts some tax breaks for oil companies, and takes some rich and corporate farmers off public welfare. Further, it establishes a health care reform trust fund which will enable the beginnings of whatever future progress is to be made in this arena.
Thankfully, projections of Mr. Obama’s long-range budgets for the future show planned spending to lessen and deficits to shrink.
This has been a long, and perhaps painful, discussion of the fiscal milieu in America today. There is much misinformation, and much misunderstanding, out there. While by no means the greatest explanation of the fiscal measures, it is hoped that this will take away some of the curse of Babel.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer