Archives: 02/2009

The Stimulus Lobbying Frenzy

At RealClearPolitics I wrote about the vast army of lobbyists jockeying for money from the TARP bailout and the stimulus bill:

The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), better known as the Wall Street bailout, was cooked up mostly in secret by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board. But the bill was no sooner proposed than lobbyists started flooding Capitol Hill and the Treasury to get a piece of it.

Every company and industry wanted to be sure that it would be eligible for some of the money, and members of Congress worked to slip their constituents and campaign donors into the bill’s 451 pages. By the time it passed, it included special provisions for Puerto Rican rum producers, auto race tracks, and corporations operating in American Samoa (such as Starkist, which is headquartered in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district). It required that insurance companies pay for mental health benefits and granted tax benefits for victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and makers of children’s wooden arrows….

Next up is the nearly-trillion-dollar stimulus bill. Don’t expect anything different. Already senators are pushing to get their pet projects and home-state interests into the measure. “It’s very intense right now,” one Washington lobbyist told U.S. News. “I’m working late every day, until 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock. Every imaginable client has been calling me with ways of how their business, or their projects, should fit into the economic stimulus package. It’s wild. No idea is too far-fetched for people.”

No sooner was the article published than more examples fill the media: “A Republican [in Ohio] called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” “Cities, towns ready to vie for stimulus funds.” “Road Builders Compete for Slice of Stimulus.” “West Michigan’s stimulus wish list.” “A State with a Wish List for Stimulus Spending.” “Steel industry lobbyists seem to have persuaded the House to insert a “Buy American” provision in the stimulus bill it passed last week.” “JetBlue Goes to Washington to Discuss Economic Stimulus Plan.”

When you lay out a picnic, you get ants. And this is the biggest picnic in the history of pork-filled picnicking.

More on the Calvo Raid

Yesterday, the Washington Post Magazine ran a terrific cover story about the violent drug raid on the home of Cheye Calvo.  Here’s an excerpt:

Cheye and Trinity flipped channels waiting for the 5 o’clock news, certain that – finally – they would be officially cleared. It was Wednesday, Aug. 7, more than a week after the raid. Then-Prince George’s Police Chief Melvin C. High and Sheriff Michael Jackson held a joint news conference to announce the arrests of a FedEx deliveryman and a second man alleged to be involved in a scheme to smuggle marijuana by shipping packages addressed to unsuspecting recipients, including the one to Trinity. Police refused to release their names.

Yet neither High nor Jackson apologized to Cheye, Trinity and Georgia or declared their absolute innocence.

The mayor of Berwyn Heights and his family “most likely, they were innocent victims” of the drug traffickers’ scheme, High said. “But we don’t want to draw that definite conclusion at the moment.”

High and Jackson defended the raid on the mayor of Berwyn Heights as reasonable and restrained, given the information they had at the time. “In some quarters, this has been viewed as a flawed police operation and an attack on the mayor, which it is not,” High said. “This was about an address; this was about a name on a package … and, in fact, our people did not know that this was the home of the mayor and his family until after the fact.”

The chief and sheriff admitted to what Cheye had already deduced: They did not specifically seek a no-knock warrant before breaking down the mayor’s door. Jackson said his deputies were justified in entering the house so forcefully because Georgia screamed when she saw them outside the house, and her cries could have alerted any armed occupants of the home to attack police or destroy evidence.

Deputies were justified in killing Payton and Chase because the dogs had “engaged” them, Jackson said, although he acknowledged under questioning that neither dog had bitten anyone.

Watching accounts of the news conference on television, Cheye grew livid. Not only had the brass refused to apologize or clear them, they were now blaming poor Georgia’s terrified scream for the botched raid. They were saying dogs barking at masked men justified slaughter.

The article notes the Cato study, Overkill by Radley Balko and the raidmap.  Read the whole thing.

Mayor Calvo recounted his ordeal at a Cato forum last summer.

US News and World Report Gets it Wrong

US News and World Report contributing editor Bonnie Erbe writes that “school vouchers… have already drained federal tax coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars.” With all due respect, this is not true.

There is only one federal school voucher program, in Washington, DC. That program is serving fewer than 2,000 children with an average voucher amount below $6,000, for an annual price tag under $12 million. It is in its fifth year of operation. Perhaps Ms. Erbe can explain to her readers how 5 * $12 million can be made to exceed $100 million?

Of course, even if the value of the vouchers to date did exceed $100 million, that wouldn’t mean it had “drained federal coffers” as Erbe claims. That’s because, as I wrote in the Washington Post and on this website, DC’s public schools spent $24,600 per pupil in 2007-08 – more than four times the average voucher cost. Much of the DC school system’s budget comes from the federal government, and the DC voucher program is saving taxpayers a great deal of money for every child it serves in place of the exorbitant district schools.

Ms. Erbe’s misrepresentation of the cost of federal vouchers calls into question the reliability of the US News and World Report. A correction is in order.

Washington’s View of the World

Remember that Saul Steinberg cover for the New Yorker that showed Manhattan’s view of America – just a vague grouping of place names between the Hudson River and the Pacific Ocean?

On Sunday we got a glimpse of how the Washington Post views the sprawling diversity of America. In an article on Cobb Island, a waterfront community about 90 minutes from Washington, the Post commented:

Cobb Island has always attracted a variety of people, from government workers to politicians.

Economists across the Political Spectrum. Not.

Robert Reich joins President Obama and Vice President Biden in claiming that “economic advisers across the political spectrum support Obama’s plan.”

Now, President Obama and Vice President Biden probably aren’t reading whole newspapers these days, and like their predecessors they don’t talk much to people who don’t agree with them. So they may have genuinely believed that “Economists from across the political spectrum agree” on the need for a massive stimulus program.

But Reich doesn’t have that excuse. He’s a professor at Berkeley. He has full access to newspapers, email, the Internet, and the help of grad students – and so he cannot be unaware that lots of leading economists oppose the Obama plan and similar massive spending programs. But then, as I’ve noted before, he’s often been at wide variance with the facts. This time, knowing that his claim might be doubted, he cited the one conservative economist who has famously endorsed a large stimulus – Martin Feldstein of Harvard – but didn’t quite acknowledge that Feldstein has called Obama’s plan “An $800 Billion Mistake.”

Stimulus Divides 2012 GOP Contenders

It is never too early to start talking about the next presidential election, and for many of those expected to contend for the GOP nomination, the proposed economic stimulus package provides an early test of whether they will be Bush-style big-government conservatives or whether they will champion limited government and economic freedom. So far, the record is decidedly mixed.

In the “give me my pork” camp are governors Sarah Palin, Charlie Crist, and Tim Pawlenty. Palin, darling of many “movement” conservatives came all the way to Washington to lobby for the bill. Crist worked the phones, unsuccessfully trying to convince Republican House members from Florida to support the bill. Pawlenty admits some concern over the bill’s impact on the federal deficit, but says, governors “are entitled to ask for our share of the money.”

On the other side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney says that he opposes the bill. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also opposes the stimulus bill, though he admits he may accept the money if it passes. Taking the strongest stand against the bill is South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who not only opposes the bill but says he probably would not accept any funds for his state. “It’s incumbent on me as one of the nation’s governors to speak out against what I believe is ultimately incredibly harmful to the economy, to taxpayers and to the worth of the U.S. dollar,” Sanford said.

It’s a long way to 2012, of course, but it looks like Republican voters will have some clear choices.