In February, Congress passed a so-called stimulus bill that was designed to take credit for any economic recovery occurring over the next decade. That's why the stimulus is spread out over ten long years. That's why its proponents are spending $18 million for a website to promote it and millions more on highway road signs to remind drivers where their money is being spent. That's why there are employees on the government payroll whose jobs are to canvas each state with press releases announcing each dollar spent. When the economy improves you can be sure that opportunistic politicians will claim credit as if they called for the sun to rise.
Whether the stimulus is actually helping the economy is a much different story. Although the stimulus was sold to the American people as a "jobs bill," national unemployment continues to increase. In September, it reached 9.8 percent, a 26-year high. Montana's unemployment rate was 5.6 percent before the stimulus passed. Today, it's 6.6 percent.
From the start, I warned this stimulus was a bad deal for rural states like Montana. For every $100 the "stimulus" program spends, Montana's share is not even enough to buy a postage stamp.
It's evident the massive stimulus that was rammed through Congress has not lived up to even the most pessimistic predictions of its supporters. Before the bill passed, the president's own economists warned us that unemployment would increase if we did nothing. Yet unemployment today is even higher than they said it would be if we did nothing.
What some in Congress fail to realize is that economic recovery will not come from the government, but from the sweat and hard work of individuals. Government can best help stimulate that process by empowering Americans to get the gears of commerce spinning again.
The stimulus has effectively taken money out of the economy at a time when we need it most. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that each dollar of stimulus spending has generated less than a dollar of economic growth. Simply stated, the only thing that has grown is the government.
If a rapid recovery had been the goal, the stimulus would have followed the successful policies of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan who cut taxes and empowered consumers and small businesses. That's the sort of stimulus I supported -- one that was timely, targeted, temporary and transparent.
Instead, the goal of this stimulus was to merely claim credit for any economic recovery while enabling more government spending. If it didn't go toward improving the economy, it's worth asking where the nearly $1 trillion went -- especially since our kids and grandkids are on the hook to repay it.
When referring to the current recession, the President's Chief of Staff observed that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Acting on this philosophy, Congress made what it called "a down payment" on the unprecedented expansion of government into every facet of American life.
After eight months, government agencies and funding recipients are already complaining about funding "cuts" when the stimulus runs out. In true Orwellian fashion, these huge increases in government spending will seem like cuts as the end of the stimulus infusion brings artificially inflated budgets back to reality.
One thing we can control is the level of spending in Washington, D.C. and the role of government in our day-to-day lives. We can start by reclaiming hundreds of billions of dollars in unspent stimulus money that's currently sitting in the accounts of various federal agencies and bureaus -- and apply these extra funds to the National Debt. I've sponsored legislation that would do just that.
It's time to ask for our money back. It's time to put our country on a true path to economic recovery.