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Op-Ed: The Stimulus One Year Later


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Anniversaries evoke a sentimental tone and encourage reflection on the path that led to the present. As our nation considers where we are today compared to last year on this anniversary of the nearly $1 trillion stimulus, I am consumed with regret, frustration and worry.
Regret that billions of dollars are spent yet unemployment continues at 10 percent, frustration that Congress is crafting another stimulus and worry for our future as we face a mountain of debt.

The current majority in Congress refuses to learn from failed policies, abandon this false idea of government-created stimulus and end the spending and federal dependence that has gone unchecked in this "lost" year.

Let's remember that when times were good, many of us spent freely, using credit to live beyond our means and naively equating consumption with success. To our credit, these behaviors quickly changed when the economy soured and we trimmed the fat. Sadly, the federal government faces this exact predicament but refuses to stop spending and continues to use the national credit card to grow the government.

Since February 2009, there have been almost as many votes to increase the debt as to expand stimulus law. Has anyone considered that these votes are related?

What is most concerning for our future is that the federal government is institutionalizing the individual behaviors that contributed to the recession in the first place. Instead of exercising fiscal discipline, we are expanding the social welfare state and funding programs that fail to produce jobs and only increase government dependence. Of the $1 trillion (spending plus interest) in stimulus, roughly 40 percent has been devoted to transfer payments through grants to states, health care subsidies, 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, additional food stamp payments and tax credits for individuals who pay no taxes.

To do this, Congress voted to allow the national debt to reach $14.3 trillion, an amount roughly the size of our gross domestic product. Clearly, this spending is unsustainable.

Though marketed as a bill to create productive jobs, the stimulus has only boosted dependence. For example, take the $5 billion emergency fund under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to help states' welfare caseloads that have grown during the recession. I was there in 1997 when Congress designed the program to overhaul welfare and motivate those on welfare to work and be self-sufficient. As a result, welfare rolls dropped from 12 million in 1996 to less than 4 million in 2008.

This new contingency fund simply incentivizes states to expand welfare spending. USA Today reported that New York accessed the fund "to help those in need to purchase back-to-school supplies and clothes" but in practice, money was spent on lottery tickets, iPods, and plasma televisions. Rather than help individuals find work, this stimulus boondoggle simply negated the welfare reform successes of the 1990s.

Looking at even the most tangible road and infrastructure projects, spending quickly takes priority over sense. The congested metro Atlanta area could have benefited from a traffic overhaul funded by the stimulus. Unfortunately, instead of adding new lanes for the long term, stimulus funds repaved existing roads for the short term.

Lastly, think back to the first iteration of "stimulate the economy" federal spending 2007 when $600 checks were sent to millions of Americans. This effort failed for many reasons, but in part because people saved the money and paid down debt. Later that year, gas prices dropped significantly and a universal stimulus was experienced, in no part thanks to the government. As history demonstrates, market forces are far more effective at providing stimulus than government action.

To immediately end this nonsensical spending, I am a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the stimulus and rescind all unspent funds. I continue to support wide-ranging efforts to promote independence by helping small businesses put people back to work, but I will continue to oppose any new plans to expand dependence. Americans struggling through today's recession deserve better, and we can do better.
America's next generation whose future is being mortgaged to pay for today's excesses deserve better, and we can do better. Though great uncertainty remains on this anniversary, it is abundantly clear that federal spending does not guarantee jobs, only debt.

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