President Barack Obama’s $814 billion stimulus has been a tremendous objective failure. The White House promised that unemployment would never rise above 8%. But this month the unemployment rose to 9.8 percent, marking the 19th consecutive month that our nation’s unemployment rate topped 9 percent, a post–World War II record. The failure of Obama’s economic stimulus is so evident that now even the left is beginning to ask why. Former Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee member and Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson notes in his op-ed today:
When Democratic senators and representatives voted to approve the $787 billion stimulus package nearly two years ago, the ones who came from swing states and districts knew they were taking a political risk. What they didn’t know was that the economic benefits of the stimulus would become so entangled in red tape that even today, much of that money remains unspent.
At September’s end, just one-third of the $4.5 billion allocated to California for transportation projects had been spent, the state’s Web site shows. In Texas, just 5 percent of the funds allocated to the largest energy project had been expended, while in New York City, only 27 percent of the funds allocated for infrastructure and 3 percent of those targeted for improving energy efficiency had been spent. Some of this money is for long-term projects, but most of it isn’t.
So why is stimulus money on infrastructure not creating jobs? Meyerson first blames technology, reasoning that the “pick-and-shovel” projects of the New Deal have been replaced by “labor-saving (and job-reducing) machines.” Perhaps Meyerson believes the federal government could better create jobs by banning the use of computers. But next he stumbles upon some truth:
Part of the answer is that big government (the stimulus) was slowed by good-government requirements (environmental impact reports, competitive bidding and the like) that didn’t exist in the ’30s.
This is undeniably true. As we predicted before the stimulus was even signed into law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) alone is red tape enough to kill the stimulative impact of any governemnt funded infrastructure project. Normally it takes a federal construction projects an average of 4.4 years to complete a NEPA review. Throw in the Clean Water Act’s section 404 requirements, and before a single shovel can hit the earth it usually takes 5.6 years for the average federal project to jump through all the normal environmental hoops.
Conservatives like Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) even offered an amendment that would have exempted federal stimulus projects from NEPA. But the enviro left was frightened that such an exemption might create a precedent for repealing NEPA and defeated it.
Perhaps all those liberals fretting over how to get unemployment below 8% might want to reconsider those priorities.