Claims That Obama Capitulated on the Stimulus, Guantanamo, and Taxes Don’t Hold Water

Friday, May 4th, 2012

(By Fay Paxton, cross-posted at The Pragmatic Pundit)

I’m always a little amazed at how easily people refer to the President as a liar.  First, because it is such a show of disrespect and a lack of good manners and secondly because I think President Obama has, in the face of unyielding opposition, done a far better job at keeping his promises than anyone has a right to expect.

I found myself in a discussion with a group of what are otherwise intelligent, well-informed people.  Many of them had the usual stinging attacks for the President that I’ve come to expect.  But what I found amazing was the response when someone took up the mantle and explained why or how certain legislation had passed.  Invariably,  people would say, “Oh, I didn’t know that” or “I had no idea”.  The President is far from perfect, but one can only wonder, given the amount of misinformation, about the source of such staunch disapproval.

So what follows is information about some of those promises. I focus primarily on the much contested Stimulus.  Not in an effort to excuse, but merely to explain what many people seem to have either forgotten or never knew.

I can’t figure if Americans have amnesia or are so civic-barren they think the President can do anything he wants:
On the second day of the new administration, President Obama signed three executive orders…one to shut down the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay and two other executive orders to review the use of military trials for terror suspects and ban harsh interrogation techniques, such as water-boarding.

Read executive order on Guantánamo

The New York Times

It’s Congress’ Fault That It’s Still Open

Congress has effectively frozen in place one of the most counterproductive aspects of our national security policy – and given Al Qaeda just what it wants.

…..Congress has barred Obama from transferring any detainees to the United States, not even to stand trial in a criminal court, and has put onerous conditions on their being transferred to any other country.

The Washington Times

House acts to block closing of Gitmo

Congress on Wednesday signaled it won’t close the prison at Guantanamo Bay or allow any of its suspected terrorist detainees to be transferred to the U.S., dealing what is likely the final blow to President Obama’s campaign pledge to shutter the facility.

People seem to forget the President compromised, extending the Bush tax cuts in order to maintain tax cuts for the middle class and an extension of unemployment. Was the preference that taxes go up on the middle class and unemployment end?  He broke one promise in order to keep one to the middle class.

In response to the economy, I hear even the most informed politicians and pundits declare, “Instead of spending time on healthcare legislation, President Obama should have concentrated on the economy.”  Is it me?  That’s what the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, better known as the Stimulus was about!

When it was initially introduced, the Stimulus totaled just under $1 trillion. Everyone should be able to recall the original uproar and outrage about the price tag; headlines looked like this:

Stimulus package ‘too big’; Galaxy Poll findings

Area Republicans criticize stimulus as too expensive

Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card: Stimulus too costly

Stimulus Too Expensive – Sun Sentinel


In fact, President Obama never made such a pledge.  The projection is the result of a Jan. 9, 2009 report “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” from Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, the vice president’s top economic adviser.

The report was issued with heavy disclaimers:

“It should be understood that all of the estimates presented in this memo are subject to significant margins of error,” the report states…. the uncertainty is surely higher than normal now because the current recession is unusual both in its fundamental causes and its severity.”

In 2011, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and The Bureau of Labor Statistics unveiled a revision of data which showed that the Great Recession was even worse than initially thought. The BEA’s first estimate of output, published in January of 2009, showed a contraction of 3.8% (this would have been the number used by economist who wrote the Stimulus), but a year later revised it to a 6.8% drop. The figure changed yet again in 2011, to a shocking 8.9% fall in GDP.  Clearly, the Stimulus was a recovery plan based on available, but what turned out to be, false data.  A fact that is seldom, if ever mentioned.

New government data shows 2007-2009 recession inflicted more severe than previously estimated

The numbers keep being revised inexorably downwards

Remarkably, the Stimulus met it’s goal; stabilizing a flailing economy; saving and creating jobs (despite Republican efforts to sabotage growth by laying off masses of employees and voting against all job-creating legislation).  One can only speculate what the result might have been if the initial GDP figures had been correct.

I concentrate on the Stimulus because it embodied in many ways an attempt to fulfill many of the promises the President made.  What seems forgotten is that in response to the “Stimulus uproar”,  a group of Senators, Republicans and Democrats,  led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins  cut billions from the original stimulus.  In the interest of bipartisanship (another promise), and because Republican votes were necessary for passage (there were not 60 Democratic senators seated) job-stimulating measures were traded for tax cuts.

Here is what was cut:

•    $3.5 billion for energy-efficient federal buildings

•    $75 million from Smithsonian; for repairs, refurbishing and upgrading

•    $200 million from Environmental Protection Agency Superfund – for tank removal, drilling, soil sampling, etc.

•    $100 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – for habitat restoration, vessel maintenance, construction and repair of NOAA facilities, ships and equipment.

•    $100 million from FBI construction

•    $65 million for watershed rehabilitation

•    $25 million for Marshall’s Construction

•    $300 million for federal prisons; repairs and upgrades to construction and security

•    $55 million for historic preservation

•    $165 million for Forest Service capital improvement

•    $16 billion for school construction

•    $3.5 billion for higher education construction

•    $2.25 billion for Neighborhood Stabilization – - for road, bridge and trail maintenance; including related watershed restoration and ecosystem enhancement projects; facilities improvement, maintenance and renovation.

•    $1.2 billion for retrofitting Project 8 housing

•    $100 million for Farm Service Agency modernization

Here’s what was cut from the Stimulus in favor of tax cuts:

•    $300 million from federal fleet of hybrid vehicles

•    $1 billion for Energy Loan Guarantees – to encourage improved technologies in energy projects that avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or  emissions of greenhouse gases; and employ new or improved technologies; issue loans to automobile and part manufacturers for cost of re-equipping, expanding, or establishing manufacturing facilities.

Here’s what was traded from the Stimulus for tax cuts:

•    $100 million from law enforcement wireless

•    $440 million for BYRNE grant program – funding would have focused on preventing and reducing violent crime; expansion of the COPS program; reducing mortgage fraud and crime related to vacant properties and improving resources and services for victims of crime.

•    $10 million state and local law enforcement

•    $50 million from Department of Homeland Security

•    $200 million Transportation Security Administration

All jobs that might have been saved had these cuts not been made to the Stimulus:

•    $50 million for Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service

•    $100 million for distance learning – a process to provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both.”

•    $98 million for school nutrition

•    $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start

•    $600 million for Title I (No Child Left Behind)

Homelessness would not be nearly as pervasive if  $1.25 billion for project based rental to preserve tens of thousands of affordable housing units and prevent homelessness had not been stripped from the Stimulus.

In fact, all kinds of healthcare benefits were eliminated in favor of tax cuts, including $2 billion for Health Information Technology Grants that would have enabled the coordination of care as well as the maintenance of the continuum of care across the nation.  Also eliminated,  $2 billion for broadband; $400 million for science and research.

These were some of the programs left on the cutting floor in favor of tax cuts:

•    $50 million for NASA – to among other things re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council

•    $50 million for aeronautics

•    $50 million for exploration and support of a human mission to the moon by 2020

Promises about Space on The Obameter

In the end the complaint would turn from the “expensive, overindulgent, wasteful Stimulus” to loud and constant declarations about the fact that “the Stimulus was just too small”,  as if a more expensive bill could have possibly passed the Congress.

The idea that the President doesn’t fight or that he “caves” is sheer silliness.  It isn’t his job to plant his feet in order to appear to be a bad ass while everything falls apart.  It’s a fair assumption he knows how to count.  And if the votes aren’t there, all the bitching and moaning in the world won’t pass a bill.

If you ask me, Americans have no one to blame but themselves.  They should have stayed engaged.  They should have supported their President, especially once they saw that so many forces were working against him.  Like the Tea Party, Democrats should have gotten rid of representatives who stood in the way of legislation they felt important.  But more than that, they really need to connect with sources that can will give them the facts.


Weekend Reading List

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

For this weekend’s reading list, we have articles on the impacts of economic inequality on Social Security, how bankers and austerity advocates have ruined the Irish economy, how theoretical fears about inflation are stopping the Federal Reserve from doing what is needed to address real economic problems, an interview about how to restore American cities, and coverage of leaked documents regarding Guantanamo.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next week’s reading list, please let us know at the Winning Progressive Facebook page.

Rising Inequality and the Social Security Shortfall – A good overview at the blog GoozNews.Com about how growing income inequality has led to declining Social Security revenue.  While the article calls for raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes, which is currently at $106,800, Winning Progressive believes we should simply eliminate the cap so that all income is treated equally in the Social Security system.

When Irish Eyes Are Crying – an article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair about how over-exuberant bankers destroyed the Irish economy and the austerity-focused Irish government has failed to stem the collapse.

The Debate That’s Muting the Fed’s Response – an essay from Christina Romer about how unsubstantiated, theoretical concerns about inflation are hindering the Federal Reserve from taking steps needed to help our economy recover.

A Conversation With Edward L. Glaeser - an interview at the New York Times Economix blog with density advocate Edward L. Glaeser about steps we could take to revitalize American cities like Detroit.

The Guantanamo Files – Coverage in the Guardian newspaper about leaked files that reveal just how much of a travesty and injustice the American prison camp at Guantanamo has been.