WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell isn’t shy about proclaiming the benefits of the stimulus bill passed a year ago. Of course, Rendell is a Democrat, and you would expect him to praise the legislation, which has been roundly denounced by Republicans as a budget-busting, porkbarrel-laden, government-expanding exercise in futility.
But California’s GOP governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has also praised the bill, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“I have been the first of the Republican governors to come out and to support the stimulus money. I say to myself, this is terrific, and anyone that says that it hasn’t created jobs, they should talk to the 150,000 people who have been getting jobs in California,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Give Schwarzenegger credit for his candor. Many Republicans have bashed the bill publicly while rushing to get part of the money for their states — or to take credit for the local programs that it helps to fund.
Not a single Republican in the House of Representatives voted for the stimulus plan. Yet, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) has sent out a press release calling attention to federal funds that went to his coastal district. He failed to mention that those funds, which included money to pay police officers’ salaries and to make improvements at several small airports, were available because of the stimulus legislation that he opposed.
U.S. Rep. John Linder (R-Duluth) claimed the stimulus bill “has done nothing for job growth in this country.” But he sent a letter to Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack supporting a request for stimulus funds from a Georgia community foundation. According to the Washington Times, the letter said, in part, “the employment opportunities created by this program will be quickly utilized.”
However, for unadulterated hypocrisy, no other Georgia Republican matches U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), who showed up at a ribbon-cutting for a Cedartown streetscape project funded from the stimulus build. In a widely circulated photo, Gingrey is shown grinning and holding one of those oversized fake checks celebrating the $625,000 government grant.
President Obama may have had Gingrey, among others, in mind when he chastised Congressional Republicans last month for their stimulus-bashing. “A lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon cuttings for the same projects that you voted against,” he said.
But Obama and his Democratic colleagues share the blame for the widespread unpopularity of the recovery act, which most Americans have come to believe was a waste of taxpayer dollars. The Democrats failed to craft an easily-understood message that would explain what the legislation would accomplish. That left an opportunity for the GOP’s relentless message machine, which isn’t above distortion and dissembling, as Rendell pointed out on “This Week.”
“The stimulus has done a great job for America, but we lost the spin war. And once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back,” he said.
You’d have thought that the GOP would have praised the legislation for including $282 billion in tax cuts (the largest single-year tax cut ever). But last month, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, dismissed the cuts, which benefited 95 percent of Americans, as “boutique tax cuts.” That’s a new use of the word “boutique” — which usually means “customized” or “exclusive.”
The unemployment benefits in the recovery act provided a critical safety net in Georgia, according to Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. “Without that, we’d have 200,000-plus people with no means of support,” he said.
He also noted that the Georgia General Assembly had used federal funds from the stimulus bill to fill a “$2.3 billion hole in the state budget. But for the stimulus, we’d have seen more draconian cuts in education, health care and more furloughs and possibly lay-offs,” Thurmond said.
According to a report compiled by a state agency, the recovery act accounted for more than 24,000 jobs in the state during the last quarter of 2009, including teachers, police officers and transportation workers. Is that wasteful pork barrel spending? Not if you benefit from those jobs.