I was interested to see this article this morning that talks about some of the first jobs the stimulus program will create. Little surprise that among them are auditor and lawyer jobs. However, the real thrust of the article deals with the efforts to ensure the stimulus money is spent wisely. Apparently GOP lawmakers are setting up a “Stimulus Watch” (will this be akin to “Panda Watch”?), which will gleefully point out elements of the stimulus program that are spending taxpayer dollars wastefully. In order to head them off at the pass (I hate that cliché), the administration will be dedicating $350 million to stimulus oversight, which may ironically turn out to be one of the biggest wastes of money if it permits the inevitable wasteful spending to come. As former head of the Government Accountability Office (they have one of those?) David Walker points out, putting together a rigid set of conditions under which stimulus money may be spent before the spending actually begins would perhaps be wiser and more effective than setting up a review panel to point out waste after it’s happened. But comments like those are probably why he’s the former head of the GAO.
One of the most infuriating items in this article as pertains to stimulus spending is the comment that, “the stimulus will channel so much money so fast to some two dozen inspector-general offices, as well as a new Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, that it might be difficult to spend it all wisely.” I’d like to take a moment to point out that the rapidity of the spending is both idiotic and likely intentional on the part of the administration considering how much special interest money was packed into the bill. They’ll want the payoffs shipped out before any boards of review or GOP “stimulus watchers” can raise the alarm. If auditors or Republican lawmakers uncover the waste later in the course of their post-spending reviews, then we’ll all see an amusing political dance by the president and his party, but the damage will have already been done. Obama may have more to lose by waiting to spend the money, should the economy begin to show signs of improvement before the implementation of his stimulus program would allow him to take credit.
Since the Republicans have thrown down the gauntlet on the stimulus and staked a great deal of political capital on it, there is much to win and lose on both sides of the issue. Frankly the Republicans stand to gain the most, as wasteful spending will be inevitable and bountiful and easy to tie around the Democrats’ necks. Additionally, any attempts to sweep the waste under the rug by the Obama administration will be a further infraction of his already broken promises of transparency in his administration. But perhaps this is why Obama was so hands-off during the bill’s actual crafting, limiting his role to that of a snake oil salesman: he wanted the freedom to point the finger at Pelosi and Reid when the Republicans come out swinging. Still, the Republicans will have to deal with lingering memories of the spending bonanza that occurred under their party’s watch from 2001 to 2006 and the lack of credibility their arguments may have. But they’re banking on the outrage of the American people over some of the mindless projects their money will go to subsidize to push those memories and arguments aside. If the economy should begin to turn around within the next several months or even the beginning of next year, however, it will be difficult for Republicans to take any credit. Indeed, it may gravely wound them. But they would have been foolish to take a gamble like this, given the precarious nature of their current political situation, if they weren’t fairly confident that the stimulus wouldn’t solve our economic woes.