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economic stimulus

Appliance Rebate Fiasco

by: corncam

Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 08:21:34 AM CST

(Someone had better fix this problem quickly. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I thought that the appliance rebate was going to make some good headlines for Gov. Culver.  But it looks like it is going down as a fiasco.  The program was supposed to start at 8:00AM today, but by 8:10, the website was already down.  

It only had the message: "The service is unavailable."  

 The phone lines are also jammed.  Most of the time I don't even get a busy signal, it just leaves me hanging, listening to static.  Has anyone else tried to get a rebate yet?

UPDATE from desmoinesdem: The $2.8 million in stimulus money for these rebates in Iowa was exhausted in one day. Representative Bruce Braley has urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "to include funding for clean energy appliance rebate programs in any jobs legislation considered by the House."

Discuss :: (12 Comments)

Steve King idiocy of the week

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 15, 2010 at 10:00:00 AM CST

These unbelievable comments from Representative Steve King come to you courtesy of KTIV in Sioux City, who asked the congressman about the upcoming closure of the John Morrell plant in April:

King doesn't support a suggestion, by Iowa governor Chet Culver, to extend federal unemployment benefits to 39-weeks after a worker loses his, or her, job.

The republican worries some Morrell workers won't start looking for a new job until that 39th week when benefits are about to run out.

King says the 26-weeks workers get, right now, is enough. Rep. Steve King, (R) Iowa says "We shouldn't turn the 'safety net' into a hammock. It should actually be a 'safety net'."

The John Morrell plant currently employs about 1,450 workers. The unemployment rate in Woodbury County is above 6 percent, so it won't be easy for all of the displaced workers to find new jobs quickly. The Iowa Democratic Party slammed King's "absurd" comments:

"Calling the extension to unemployment benefits a 'hammock' is insulting. Sioux City is suffering with the blow of the Morrell plant closing. This is the worst recession in 80 years. But, Congressman King believes that we should be worried about these workers being too lazy," said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan. [...]

"Iowans believe in working hard and playing by the rules, and I know that many affected by the Morrell plant closing are already looking for work to provide for their families after the plant closes. Steve King should stop insulting his constituents and get to work helping them get through this difficult time."

Not only is King insensitive, he appears to be ignorant about how unemployment benefits relate to the broader economy. Last year Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moodys.com, calculated the stimulus "bang for the buck" of various forms of tax cuts and government spending. The table he created is on page 9 of this pdf document, or you can view it here. Of everything Zandi examined, extending unemployment benefits had the second-highest bang for the buck, generating $1.63 in economic activity for every $1 spent by the federal government. That was more than three times the bang for the buck of any permanent tax cut. Even the best tax cut for economic stimulus (a temporary payroll tax holiday) generates only an estimated $1.28 in economic activity for every $1 in revenue the federal government doesn't collect.

In other words, extending unemployment benefits to former John Morrell workers wouldn't just give them a safety net, it would produce more revenue for businesses in the Sioux City area. Last year's stimulus bill extended federal unemployment benefits, but that provision may expire at the end of this month. Meanwhile, long-term unemployment has reached its highest level in decades. According to KTIV, King has talked with Smithfield Foods about giving Sioux City workers jobs at plants Smithfield owns in other communities, but I question how realistic that is when 44 other states have higher unemployment rates than Iowa. Nor would it help Sioux City businesses and property values to have hundreds of families leave the area.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Discuss :: (19 Comments)

Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 2)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 14:56:38 PM CST

Following up on the diary I posted this morning, this post compiles links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of national politics from July through December 2009. Health care reform was again the number one topic. I wish there had been a happy ending.
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Mr. President, please ignore the deficit hawks

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 14:27:03 PM CST

Barack Obama's job approval in Iowa fell to 49 percent according to the latest statewide poll by Selzer and Co. for the Des Moines Register. His lowest marks were for his handling of the budget deficit (30 percent approve, 61 percent disapprove), leading Kathie Obradovich to suggest that "Cut spending and balance the budget" should be at the top of Obama's to-do list.

No matter what today's polls say about the deficit, it would be poor economic policy and foolish politics to make deficit reduction a priority now.

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Cash for Clunkers ends, cash for appliances coming soon

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 09:57:03 AM CDT

The $3 billion "Cash for Clunkers" program officially ends today, having helped generate at least 625,000 new car sales. Representative Bruce Braley, a key advocate of the program, is holding an event this morning in Bettendorf with John McEleney, Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, and Gary Thomas, President of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association.

Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced that $300 million in stimulus money will go toward cash incentives for consumers to buy energy-efficient home appliances:

Beginning late this fall, the program authorizes rebates of $50 to $200 for purchases of high-efficiency household appliances. The money is part of the broader economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. Program details will vary by state, and the Energy Dept. has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file formal applications. The Energy Dept. expects the bulk of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November. (Unlike the clunkers auto program, consumers won't have to trade in their old appliances.)

"These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan. Only appliances covered by the Energy Star seal will qualify. In 2008, about 55% of newly produced major household appliances met those standards, which are set by the Energy Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency.

Replacing old appliances can significantly reduce a household's energy use and utility bills, so this seems like a good use of stimulus money. However, some analysts are skeptical that the new program will be as successful as "Cash for Clunkers":

"The cash-for-clunkers (program) had a discernible value proposition for the consumer, because he knows how much his (clunker) is worth," says [Sam] Darkatsh, the Raymond James analyst. "With appliances, there is no trade-in. You can walk into Home Depot and get a great deal on a home appliance any time you want one. Why would it drum up sales now?" Laura Champine, an analyst with Cowen & Co., agrees. "I'm not sure if it will be as powerful as cash for clunkers because there is something compelling about that $4,500 discount," she says. "Also, a new car is more fun than a new dishwasher. So I'm not sure if it will be as much of a driver, but any driver is welcome right now."

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Cash for Clunkers gets $2 billion from stimulus funds

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 07, 2009 at 17:24:21 PM CDT

President Barack Obama signed a bill today allocating an additional $2 billion to the to the Car Allowance Rebate System, more commonly known as Cash for Clunkers. The money will come from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (the economic stimulus bill approved in February). The Senate approved the bill by a 60-37 vote on Thursday night. Senator Tom Harkin voted yes, and Senator Chuck Grassley, who criticized the program earlier this week, voted no.

I liked Harkin's idea to put income limits on this program, but the Senate wanted to get this measure passed before the summer recess. If the Senate had approved a different bill from what cleared the House last week, the funding would have been delayed until September.

The Senate vote went mostly along party lines, but four Democrats joined 33 Republicans in voting no, and seven Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting yes.

I'm pleased to learn that most consumers who have taken advantage of this program have traded in a "clunker" for cars that get significantly better mileage. (Click here for lists of the most popular vehicles traded in and the most popular purchased with Cash for Clunkers vouchers.) The way Congress wrote the bill, people could have traded in SUVs and trucks for similar vehicles with only minimal improvements in fuel economy.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

More details on extra help for Iowa's unemployed

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 14, 2009 at 06:35:05 AM CDT

I recently discussed how Iowa is fully utilizing federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits, unlike many other states, which are leaving all or part of that money on the table.

The Iowa Senate highlighted steps taken during the 2009 session to extend unemployment benefits, which went into effect on July 1:

· Improving and expanding services for unemployed Iowa workers. By making reforms to Iowa's unemployment insurance program, our state will receive $70.8 million from the federal government to extend benefits for unemployed workers in training programs. It makes sense to support Iowans who are trying to upgrade their skills by attending community college and other types of training.

· Paying unemployment claims for replacement workers who become unemployed when Iowa National Guard and Reserve members return to their local jobs after active duty. When our soldiers come home, the state should help the replacement workers without penalizing employers.

· Providing $18.9 million to workforce field offices across Iowa. Iowa has 55 workforce centers, which provide job counseling, training, placement and other assistance. These services help laid off workers move forward and help local businesses find the employees they need.

For more details, read the full text of Senate File 197 here.

Note: the $70.8 million in federal funding for expanded unemployment benefits came from the economic stimulus bill, or American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. All House Republicans, including Iowa's Tom Latham and Steve King, voted against that bill, as did almost all Senate Republicans, including Chuck Grassley.  

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Iowa taking full advantage of stimulus unemployment funds

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 09, 2009 at 18:31:37 PM CDT

When Congress was debating the stimulus bill earlier this year, Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's, compared various forms of government spending and tax cuts in terms of economic stimulus "bang for the buck." He concluded (pdf file) that various forms of government spending did more to stimulate the economy than various kinds of tax cuts.

The best kinds of spending in terms of stimulative effect were food stamps and extending unemployment benefits. Every extra dollar the federal government spends on food stamps generates approximately $1.73 in economic activity, and every dollar the federal government spends to extend unemployment benefits generates approximately $1.63 in economic activity. People who need these services are likely to spend additional money quickly, helping preserve jobs in the retail sector.

With this in mind, you might imagine that the states would take full advantage of money allocated to unemployment benefits in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. But you would be wrong, according to this article by Olga Pierce from ProPublica:

So far, only about half of the $7 billion included in the stimulus package [for expanding unemployment insurance] has been claimed by states. [...]

Four states have explicitly rejected the funding, but many others have so far failed to pass legislation qualifying them for incentive payments. [...]

Under the stimulus bill [2], states can qualify for the extra funding by extending unemployment insurance to new categories of workers. To receive a third of the funding, they must begin using something called an alternative base period, which would allow more low-wage workers to receive unemployment benefits. [...]

To get the other two-thirds of the cash, they must adopt at least two other changes from a list that includes covering part-time workers and offering $15 extra per week for each dependent.

If states meet the requirements, they qualify for a federal lump sum payment that will cover the cost of expansion for at least three years, or longer in many cases. It was on those grounds - that after the federal funding runs out states will have to find another way to cover the cost - that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal [3], Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour [4] and others [5] that said they would reject the funding.

Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I believe basic fairness justifies extending unemployment benefits to more part-time and low-wage workers. But even if you don't care about fairness, Zandi's analysis shows that extending unemployment benefits will get money circulating in the economy.

Click here for a map and a chart showing how much federal unemployment money each state has claimed.  

As of mid-June, 17 states had claimed none of the stimulus funding for unemployment benefits, and another 12 states and the District of Columbia had claimed only part of that money. In some of those states, Democrats are in charge. Progressives who have ridiculed Republican governors for rejecting stimulus money for unemployment benefits should also hold Democrats accountable on this score.

Fortunately, Iowa is among 21 states that have fully used these stimulus funds as Congress intended. Thousands of Iowans struggling to get by will benefit from the $70.8 million the stimulus bill appropriated to our state for unemployment benefits. Democrats in the state legislature and Governor Chet Culver deserve credit for enacting the necessary legislative changes to collect this funding.

Many of the states that have left stimulus money on the table have significantly higher unemployment rates than Iowa, by the way.

Speaking of boosting the economy, Zandi's report showed that infrastructure projects were the third-most stimulative form of government spending. Every extra dollar spent on infrastructure generates an estimated $1.59 in economic activity. Remember that next time Iowa Republicans bring out their misleading talking points about the the I-JOBS program. Also remember that Iowa has used the stimulus bill's transportation funding wisely compared to many other states, according to a recent review by Smart Growth America.

In contrast, most kinds of tax cuts Republicans advocate generate less than one dollar of economic activity for every dollar they cost the government. As a gesture to Republicans, Democrats replaced some spending in the stimulus bill with $70 billion allocated to fixing the alternative minimum tax, even though Zandi's analysis found that a dollar spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax generates only about 49 cents in economic activity.

It's too bad the Obama administration made a number of concessions to Republicans on the stimulus bill. Like Bob Herbert wrote a few months ago, when the GOP talks about the economy, nobody should listen.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Iowa investing transportation stimulus funds well so far

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 02:00:00 AM CDT

June 29 was exactly 120 days since the federal government released highway funds to the states as part of the economic stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Smart Growth America marked the occasion by releasing a review on how wisely states are spending the transportation money.

The 120-day mark is significant because it is the point by which states and territories are required to have obligated 50 percent of the flexible money granted them for transportation projects by the federal government. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, but also - in the language of the Act - "to invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits."

Iowa received about $358 million in federal highway stimulus funds, and I was pleased to read in Smart Growth America's report (pdf file) that our state's allocations compare favorably with those in most other states. Follow me after the jump for more details.  

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Infrastructure spending needs strong oversight

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 13, 2009 at 10:45:47 AM CDT

All government spending on infrastructure is not created equal. With good planning and accountability measures, the federal stimulus and state bonding packages approved this year by Congress and the Iowa legislature could turn out to be wise investments with long-term benefits. Without proper monitoring, we could squander lots of borrowed federal and state money.

Laura Dean of the Huffington Post drew my attention to the Project on Government Oversight's review of state websites on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the official name for the stimulus bill). They were specifically looking for resources for those who want to report fraud, waste and abuse in how federal stimulus funds are being used.

The findings are summarized here. Iowa did well as one of only seven states that "listed clear procedures for whistleblowers, such as what information to report, who to report to, and what will be done with that information." ("Report stimulus fraud" is right on the front page of Iowa's site, in the "featured links" section.)

However, there's always room for improvement. The Project on Government Oversight applauded a few especially "whistleblower-friendly websites":

Tied for first prize were Florida and Georgia, whose sites did an excellent job of providing clear procedures and protections for whistleblowers. Next up were Maine, Connecticut, and Texas, whose websites all did a good job of making the whistleblower's job just a little bit easier.

Perhaps the webmaster for Iowa's site on federal stimulus spending can make a few changes based on the Project on Government Oversight's recommendations (pdf file).

As for state spending on infrastructure, the I-JOBS board will choose projects to receive funds soon. The criteria for selection are clear, and state officials understand the need for transparency in the process. Once the money has been allocated, the I-JOBS website should make it easy for citizens not only to track how the money is being spent, but to report any suspected fraud, waste or abuse.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

I wonder where Rants and Vander Plaats stand on this stimulus spending

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 20, 2009 at 07:44:26 AM CDT

Nearly every day I see reports on this or that program in Iowa receiving additional funding thank to the federal economic stimulus bill, passed in February over loud Republican objections. This news caught my eye on Monday. Iowa will receive about $7.5 million out of $100 million appropriated to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program:

Polk County will receive $3 million to eliminate lead in 206 housing units; Marshalltown will get nearly $2.6 million to remove lead from 150 housing units; and Sioux City will be awarded nearly $2 million to create 75 lead-safe housing units.

Two potential Republican candidates for governor next year happen to be from Sioux City: businessman Bob Vander Plaats and State Representative Chris Rants. I know some conservatives are clueless about the dangers posed by lead paint, but I wonder if Rants and Vander Plaats can see the benefit of creating lead-safe housing.

Background: lead poisoning can cause mental retardation and behavioral problems, and not only in children. "Exposure to excessive amounts of inorganic lead during the toddler years may produce lasting adverse effects upon brain function." Decades later, people poisoned by lead can show signs of cognitive deficits and mental illness. People exposed to high levels of lead in the womb and in early childhood have cells missing in key areas of the brain and have been found to be "more likely to be arrested for crimes, especially violent crimes."

If Republicans claim they support lead remediation but don't think it belongs in an economic stimulus bill, remember that lead remediation requires human labor and therefore creates jobs. I also would like Republicans to explain where they would find the money for this important work, since Republican politicians want deep spending cuts at the state level as well as a federal spending freeze.

I'm glad to learn that more funding to get lead out of homes was included in the stimulus bill. Reducing children's exposure to lead has long been a priority for Barack Obama.

The Iowa Department of Public Health's Bureau of Lead Poisoning Prevention has more background on lead poisoning in Iowa.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Cleaner water: tangible benefit of stimulus and bonding bills

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 17, 2009 at 23:09:38 PM CDT

Water quality has long been one of Iowa's biggest environmental problems. Fortunately, the state plans to spend some $455 million cleaning up Iowa rivers and lakes, according to an excellent piece by Perry Beeman in the May 10 edition of the Des Moines Register:

After decades of struggling to address serious pollution problems, the state now has an unprecedented pool of state and federal money to solve some of its worst water-quality problems, said Charles Corell, the water chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest impacts: improved sewage treatment and septic systems in the 500 towns and rural subdivisions that don't have any. [...]

Much of the new money for water quality was approved last month by the Iowa Legislature as part of a huge bond package pushed by Gov. Chet Culver. Other money was awarded as part of flood recovery efforts.

Money for lake restorations - including popular spots like Clear Lake in Cerro Gordo County and Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County - will more than quadruple. Many predict the much larger pool will fuel recreation opportunities and improve local economies. [...]

"You essentially have untreated or under-treated sewage getting into waterways," said Corell, who visited Truesdale and Greenville on Thursday to discuss proposed sewer projects. "And it's all the time, not just when it rains."

After the jump I have posted details Beeman compiled about the new money that will be used to improve water quality in Iowa. A large sum came from the federal economic stimulus bill, which didn't get a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives. Another major source is the I-JOBS bonding initiative, which passed the Iowa House and Senate last month with no Republican votes.

Republicans keep bashing the federal stimulus spending and the state-level borrowing, as if no Iowans will benefit from these policies (aside from the few thousand people who will work on the projects). One typical example was the e-mail blast Iowa Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley sent out last week. You won't find it on the comically awful Iowa Senate Republicans website, which appears not to have been updated since April 16. However, I receive "McKinley's Memos" via e-mail, and I've posted the May 15 edition after the jump to give you a flavor of current Republican ideology.

I addressed most of the points McKinley raises in this post. The Party of No's indiscriminate stance against borrowing fails to recognize that when interest rates are relatively low, bonding to pay for worthwhile projects is a wise investment. It may be hard to assign a dollar value to reducing water pollution in Iowa, but that doesn't mean it's not important for human health, biodiversity and local economies.

Hundreds of thousands of Iowans will benefit from the clean water projects discussed in Beeman's article. If Republicans had their way, the sewer improvements and lake cleanups wouldn't happen for years, if ever.

Please share your own thoughts about penny-wise and pound-foolish conservative dogma in this thread.

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Obama announces plans for high-speed rail funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 19:49:51 PM CDT

LATE UPDATE: This piece by BruceMcF is a must-read: How to build a national high-speed rail system.

President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a

blueprint for a new national network of high-speed passenger rail lines Thursday, saying such an investment is necessary to reduce traffic congestion, cut dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment.

The president's plan identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors for federal funding, including California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New England.

It also highlights potential improvements in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor running from Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.

The economic stimulus package included about $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, and Obama is seeking an additional $1 billion each year for high-speed rail in the next five federal budgets.

After the jump I've got more details on how this funding could benefit Iowa.

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A few links on unemployment and finding a job

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 09, 2009 at 14:56:02 PM CDT

As you can see from this graph, job losses in the current recession are worse than in other recent recessions and are continuing to accelerate at a time when the U.S. economy has already started adding jobs during the past two recessions.

Paul Krugman, who has been arguing for a much larger stimulus package, is very worried:

To see how bad the numbers are, consider this: The administration's budget proposals, released less than two weeks ago, assumed an average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent for the whole of this year. In reality, unemployment hit that level in February - and it's rising fast.

Employment has already fallen more in this recession than in the 1981-82 slump, considered the worst since the Great Depression. As a result, Mr. Obama's promise that his plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 looks underwhelming, to say the least. It's a credible promise - his economists used solidly mainstream estimates of the impacts of tax and spending policies. But 3.5 million jobs almost two years from now isn't enough in the face of an economy that has already lost 4.4 million jobs, and is losing 600,000 more each month. [...]

So here's the picture that scares me: It's September 2009, the unemployment rate has passed 9 percent, and despite the early round of stimulus spending it's still headed up. Mr. Obama finally concedes that a bigger stimulus is needed.

But he can't get his new plan through Congress because approval for his economic policies has plummeted, partly because his policies are seen to have failed, partly because job-creation policies are conflated in the public mind with deeply unpopular bank bailouts. And as a result, the recession rages on, unchecked.

At MyDD Charles Lemos wonders whether current job losses may become permanent because of the manufacturing sector's continuing decline.

Only the biggest layoffs make headlines, as when John Deere cut 325 jobs in Dubuque and Davenport last week. But almost all of us have friends or relatives who have lost their jobs in the past six months. Thankfully, none of my recently-unemployed friends are likely to lose their homes, but lots of people aren't so lucky. Tent cities are booming across the country.

If you are looking for work, read this piece by Teddifish on How to get a job when no one is hiring.

Daily Kos diarist plf515 just found a new job and shared some advice in this diary:

How did I get this job?

I told everyone I was looking for work!  

This particular lead came from an announcement I made on SAS-L a mailing list about software that I use.  I am a frequent contributor there, someone who has read my work saw my mention, and then forwarded me a link to a job offer. [...]

But I didn't just mention it there.  I told everyone. I wrote a diary here; and I joined dkos networking; I announced it on mailing lists; I told my friends; I told former employers; I told the guy who does our dry cleaning; I told EVERYONE.  I also left cards advertising my consulting business all over.  

Can you find a job in this economy? Well, there are no guarantees.  But, if people don't know you're looking, they'll never tell you about any openings.  

MyDD user ragekage has specific advice for people pursuing a career in nursing because they think it is a "recession-proof" occupation.

This thread is for any comments about unemployment or helpful advice about finding jobs.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

How to turn a severe recession into a depression

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 12:47:48 PM CDT

Freeze federal spending in response to a huge spike in unemployment.

No, seriously, House Republican leader John Boehner is now proposing a federal spending freeze. Like Josh Marshall says,

I'm not even sure it's fair to say that this is a replay of the disastrous decisions the magnified the Great Depression between 1929 and 1933. It's more a parody of it. When the crisis is a rapid and catastrophic drop off in demand, you handcuff the one force that can create demand (i.e., the federal government) in the throes of the contraction. That's insane. Levels of stimulus are a decent question. Intensifying the contraction is just insane and frankly a joke.

Paul Rosenberg has some good comments and a Rachel Maddow clip on this topic.

Republicans have long advocated dumb ideas on economic policy, like Congressman Steve King's proposal to boost investment by eliminating capital gains taxes. To state the obvious, investors are not staying away from stocks because they're worried about paying taxes on huge capital gains. On the contrary, investors fear that they will lose money because the market has not hit bottom yet and the recession will bring down more companies.

Similarly, fear of taxes on corporate profits has little to do with why businesses are not investing in production now. Business owners are not worried about finding money to pay taxes on profits. They are worried about losing money because skyrocketing unemployment reduces consumer demand for the goods or services that businesses sell.

In fairness, if we followed bad Republican advice on cutting corporate and capital gains taxes, we'd only be giving wealthy Americans tax breaks with a very small economic stimulus "bang for the buck" (see this data compiled by the chief economist for Moody's). If we followed Boehner's "new and improved" Republican advice to freeze federal spending, we would send the economy into a meltdown.

I have to wonder whether Republicans even believe in their own talking points. A spending freeze, really? That's not what George W. Bush and the Republican majority in Congress did during the previous recession.

I think they may be beating the drum on spending to scare some Democrats out of supporting Obama's budget proposal. What worries me is the scenario outlined by Open Left user Master Jack:

1. Obama submits a budget with the spending necessary to avoid a depression.

  2. Blue Dogs bitch and bleat and whine.

  3. Obama caves to the blue dogs and waters down his budget.

  4. Depression ensues.

  5. Democrats get clobbered in 2010.

  6. Liberals get blamed.

  This is what the Republicans are trying to make happen. And it wouldn't stand a prayer of working of not for their blue dog enablers.

Democrats from President Obama on down need to push back hard against the Republicans' idiotic new line.  

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

More details on highway stimulus funds coming to Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 14:52:10 PM CST

The White House released detailed information today on the $28 billion the stimulus bill directs toward highway construction. According to a press release (sorry, no link), the highway spending will "lead to 150,000 jobs saved or created by the end of 2010." An estimated 95,000 jobs would come from the "direct impact of building new roads and fixing old ones," while 55,000 jobs would come from "the economic activity generated when these new workers spend more than they would have otherwise."

It is also worth noting that jobs in highway construction tend to pay better than average. The typical, or median hourly wage for all jobs in the economy was $15.10 in 2007 according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for workers in the highway industry, the typical hourly wage was $18.31, a premium of over $3 per hour over the economy-wide median wage.

Looking more closely at different types of jobs within the industry helps to explain the difference. The median wage of blue collar, or production workers-folks who do jobs like welding and mixing-comes to about $16 per hour in highway construction compared to about $13.50 in the overall economy.

This page at Recovery.gov has a map you can use to see how much money in highway funds will go to individual states.

Iowa is slated to receive about $358 million, of which about $240 million can be used in any part of the state.

The remaining money is to be allocated as follows: $10.7 million for "mandatory transportation enhancements," $20.8 million for use in urban areas, $73.2 million for use in suburban areas and $13.4 million for use in rural areas. (By the way, "'enhancement' is a legally defined term for projects such as sidewalk repairs, bicycle paths, and beautification projects.")

Decisions within each state on where to spend the money need to be made quickly:

Parts of the allocation are set aside to make sure that urban, suburban, and rural areas alike all get a share. But since local leaders -- mayors and governors -- know their communities best, much of the money is left to states' discretion. And if states don't use it, they lose it. To make sure that funds go out quickly to give our economy the jolt it needs, states have 120 days to assign the funds to specific projects.

As a rule, federal highway funds tend to go toward new road construction, but it would be better to direct the stimulus funds primarily toward fixing the roads and bridges we have. Repairing crumbling roads and bridges improves safety, the quality of life and property values in existing neighborhoods. Building new roads stimulates sprawl without solving traffic congestion problems.

Sprawling development also increases "vehicle miles traveled" per capita and consequently greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Spending stimulus highway money on a "fix-it-first basis" would not only be wise, but also popular. As I mentioned in my previous post, a national survey by Hart Research Associates, released last week, found that "An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads [...]."

Here's hoping Iowa transportation officials will spend the stimulus money wisely.

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Tell us if you catch King or Latham taking credit for stimulus spending (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 18, 2009 at 03:50:34 AM CST

Although GOP leaders are boasting that zero House Republicans voted for the stimulus bill, I have a sneaking suspicion that once this so-called "wasteful spending" starts working its way through the economy, Republican members of Congress will find a way to take credit for it.

We saw last fall that Steve "10 worst" King used his first television commercial to take credit for progress toward widening Iowa Highway 20. The TIME-21 plan approved by the state legislature last spring--not King's work in Congress--made that project possible. Nevertheless, King continued to mislead voters about his role in moving the Highway 20 project forward.

At least two House Republicans are already playing this game with respect to the stimulus. David Waldman/Kagro X predicts,

Standard operating procedure, of course. Oppose the bill viciously, vote against it, then show up at every ribbon cutting in the district paid for by federal funds, and cry "Politicization!" if they're not invited.

Paul Rosenberg's take on this story is also worth a read.

Democrats need to be on the lookout for this kind of weaselry over the next couple of years. Help from Iowans living in the fourth and fifth Congressional districts would be most appreciated.

If you see Steve King or Tom Latham taking credit for stimulus spending they voted against, either in an official press release or in a local newspaper, radio or television news story, please post a diary about it at Bleeding Heartland, or e-mail me with the details (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com).

UPDATE: More Republicans are touting wonderful provisions in the stimulus bill they voted against.

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Employment numbers belie Steve King's high-school research

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 01:25:07 AM CST

Representative Steve King bragged about his 11th-grade research project in the Thursday edition of the Des Moines Register:

As a junior at Denison High School, I wrote a term paper on President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. I began working on the paper with the intention of confirming what I had been taught in school - that FDR's government recovery programs brought America out of the Great Depression.

I started my research believing in the success of Roosevelt's economic-recovery programs. To support this claim, I spent hours at the Carnegie Library in Denison reading past editions of the local, biweekly newspaper.

My reading began with the 1929 stock-market crash, and I examined every issue through the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Those stacks of old papers turned upside down everything I had been taught in history and government class about the New Deal. As I searched for information proving the New Deal stabilized the American economy, I instead found the exact opposite: high unemployment, a struggling stock market and continued hard times.

Later statistical findings confirm my 11th-grade research. Throughout the 1930s, the unemployment rate never dipped below 14 percent. FDR's tinkering with the free market frustrated investors, and the 1929 high point for the Dow Jones industrial average was not reached again until 1954.

Roosevelt possessed tremendous leadership skills and inspired many Americans, including my hard-hit family. Charisma aside, historians often inflate the true economic record of the New Deal. Roosevelt tried one big government program after another, with poor results. Many of Roosevelt's programs and initiatives led the government to compete directly with the private sector for capital and workers, with Washington making the rules.

Massive government spending did not lift the United States out of recession. Instead, FDR's big-government programs prolonged the Great Depression. The best we can say about the New Deal is that it may have blunted the depths of the Depression, but the trade-off was it delayed economic recovery until World War II and our post-war industrial advantage brought America out of the Depression.

Ah yes, the "poor results" of big-government programs introduced by FDR. Programs like Social Security, which dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which "set maximum hours and minimum wages for most categories of workers."

But never mind the safety net for seniors and regulations that improved the quality of life for workers. What about King's central claim, that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression? This is now a key right-wing talking point against government spending in Barack Obama's stimulus package.

It is wrong to say that no economic recovery occurred during the New Deal. On the contrary,

The economy had hit rock bottom in March 1933 and then started to expand. As historian Broadus Mitchell notes, "Most indexes worsened until the summer of 1932, which may be called the low point of the depression economically and psychologically."[18] Economic indicators show the economy reached nadir in the first days of March, then began a steady, sharp upward recovery. Thus the Federal Reserve Index of Industrial Production hit its lowest point of 52.8 in July 1930 (with 1935-39 = 100) and was practically unchanged at 54.3 in March 1933; however by July 1933, it reached 85.5, a dramatic rebound of 57% in four months. Recovery was steady and strong until 1937. Except for unemployment, the economy by 1937 surpassed the levels of the late 1920s. The Recession of 1937 was a temporary downturn. Private sector employment, especially in manufacturing, recovered to the level of the 1920s but failed to advance further until the war.

Unemployment continued to be high by today's standards throughout the 1930s, but King ignores the sharp reduction in unemployment following the introduction of New Deal policies.

The bottom line is this: the unemployment rate dropped by 9 percent during the pre-World War II FDR era, and the absolute number of unemployed people dropped by 36.7 percent (from 12.8 million unemployed in 1932 to 8.1 million unemployed in 1940).

World War II significantly reduced the number of unemployed Americans, but again, it is false to claim that the New Deal programs accomplished little on the employment front.

By way of comparison, under King's hero Ronald Reagan, the unemployment rate only dropped by 2.1 percent, and the absolute number of unemployed people dropped by 19.0 percent (from 8.2 million in 1981 to 6.7 million in 1988).

The U.S. population was a lot bigger during Reagan's presidency than it was in FDR's day. If Reagan's policies were so much better for putting people to work, why did we not see a larger decrease in the total number of unemployed Americans during the 1980s? Why did we see such marginal improvement in the unemployment rate during Reagan's presidency?

If we look at employment figures under every president since FDR, King's nemesis Bill Clinton comes out ahead. During his presidency, the unemployment rate declined by 2.9 percent, and the total number of unemployed dropped by 36.3 percent (from 8.9 million in 1993 to 5.6 million in 2000).

Note: Chase Martyn had a go at King at Iowa Independent, but he was too kind in my opinion. The facts do not support King's assertion that the New Deal delayed economic recovery and failed to address high unemployment.

Someone please talk King into running for governor in 2010 so we can get a less odious Republican representing Iowa's fifth district.

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Open thread on good news and bad news in the stimulus bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 14:01:18 PM CST

It didn't take long for representatives and senators to reach a compromise on a $790 billion stimulus bill. Chris Bowers posted a good summary of the bill at Open Left. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's selling point is that the bill that came out of conference creates more jobs than the original Senate bill while spending less money than the original House bill.

I don't believe the bill is large enough to do the job it's supposed to do, especially since it still contains costly measures that won't stimulate the economy much (such as fixing the alternative minimum tax, which hits high-income Americans).

I hope President Barack Obama will take a tougher line in future negotiations with Congress. He did too much pre-compromising with Republicans, to the detriment of the final bill. His original suggestion of an $800 billion price tag for the stimulus, seen by some as a "floor" that would increase when Congress got to work, became a "ceiling" above which any bill was viewed as too expensive.

He also included too many non-stimulative tax cuts in his original proposal to Congress. Predictably, Republicans demanded (and got) even more concessions, even though none of them voted for the bill in the House and only three voted for it in the Senate.

Bowers noticed one Q and A from Obama's prime-time press conference the other night, which hints that the president learned a lesson about negotiating from this experience.

Bowers believes that "The deal isn't perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years."

David Sirota is also mostly pleased:

I'm not happy that the stimulus bill was made less stimulative by reactionary Republicans and embarrassingly incoherent Democrats. I'm also not happy that direct spending on infrastructure/social programs comprises a miniscule 4.6% of all the government funds spent to deal with this economic crisis. However, considering how far progressives have pushed the debate, I'd say the deal on the economic stimulus package is a huge victory.

Remember, only months ago, the incoming administration and the Congress were talking about passing a stimulus bill at around $350 billion. Remember, too, that Obama started out pushing a stimulus package chock full of odious tax cuts. Now, we've got a bill that's $790 billion (including a sizable downpayment for major progressive priorities) and stripped of the worst tax cuts.

Your opinion of the stimulus may depend on which issues you care about most. Open Left user WI Dem noticed that the compromise bill included more funding for high-speed rail but less for urban public transit, which "has a far greater effect on CO2 [emissions] and on people's daily lives."

Via the twitter feed of Daily Iowan opinion writers, I found this piece by Climate Progress on "what's green" in the stimulus compromise.

The Republican Party is already planning to run ads against 30 Democrats who will vote for the stimulus. It makes sense for the GOP to bet against the stimulus, because they won't get credit if it succeeds, and their best hope for a comeback in the next election cycle is for Democrats to fail. The main risk for them is that if the stimulus package succeeds, the upcoming advertising campaign people could make more people remember that Republicans tried to stand in its way.

Speaking of Republican propaganda, contrary to what your wingnut friends may tell you, the stimulus bill does not earmark $30 million to save "Nancy Pelosi's mouse." It does include some funding for federal wetlands restoration, however.

UPDATE: TPM's Elana Schor provides surprising proof that no politician is wrong 100 percent of the time. Apparently Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma got a $2 billion "clean coal" earmark out of the stimulus bill.

Greg Sargent explains how "Pelosi's mouse" went from fabrication to talking point for right-wing television pundits.

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Grassley names his price

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 10:22:56 AM CST

I learned at Iowa Independent that Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters on Wednesday that he would vote for the economic stimulus "regardless of what else is in the bill" if the Senate approved an amendment providing for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 4 percent interest.

He remained critical of the spending in the bill:

"People at the grassroots see it as a lot of spending and not very much stimulus," Grassley said. "Somebody thinks they're fooling the people of this country with this package, but they aren't."

Senator Tom Harkin's office put out a statement on Tuesday listing some of the proposed spending that would benefit Iowans:

February 3, 2009

HARKIN: $1.5 BILLION INCLUDED FOR IOWA IN SENATE STIMULUS PACKAGE

Washington,  D.C. - U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that there are more than $1.5 billion in critical investments for  Iowa included in the Senate version of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These investments will create and save jobs; help with budget shortfalls to prevent deep cuts in basic services such as health, education, and law enforcement; cut taxes for working families and invest in the long-term health of our economy.

"The economy is now shedding an average of 17,000 jobs a day, and new foreclosures average 9,000 a day.  We are facing what could be the deepest, longest recession since the Great Depression.  We must act quickly and boldly,"  said Harkin.  "This bill will create jobs now while also laying the foundation for a stronger economy that works for all Americans in the future."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $888 billion in investments and tax cuts.  Of this total, $694 billion will enter the economy by the end of Fiscal year 2010, meaning that 78 percent of the monies allocated will reach the American people by September 30, 2010, providing an immediate boost to the overall economy and creating an estimated four million jobs nationwide.

Below are the approximate investments Iowa could see if the Senate bill is passed and signed into law by the president.  These amounts only include major accounts that are allocated by formula, and do not include the considerable funds that will be allocated competitively by the executive branch.

Nutrition Programs

·         $2.3 million for School Lunch Programs
·         $109 million for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
·         $776,000 for the Emergency Food Assistance Program
Homeland Security Programs

·         $639,000 for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program
Clean Water Programs

·         $24 million for the Drinking Water Fund
·         $54 million for the Clean Water Fund
Transportation Funding

·         $389 million for  Iowa 's Highway fund
·         $46 million for Transit Funding
Housing Programs

·         $7.6 million for public housing capital
·         $14.8 million for HOME funding
·         $16.8 million for homelessness prevention
Law Enforcement / Crime funding

·         $14 million for Byrne/JAG funding
·         $978,000 for crime victim programs
·         $1 million to protect children against internet crimes
·         $3.2 million to assist women who are victims of violence
Energy Programs

·         $6.6 million for  Iowa 's energy program
·         $48.6 million for weatherization programs
Labor, Health and Human Service and Education Programs

·         $18.1 million for Child Care and Development Block Grants
·         $5.2 million for Head Start
·         $625.6 million for the state stabilization fund
·         $65.4 million for Title 1 programs
·         $140.1 million for Special Education Part B Grants
·         $46.1 million for Higher Education Facilities
·         $1.6 million for Adult Employment and Training

·         $78.7 million for School modernization
·         $5 million for education technology
·         $2.2 million for Community Service Block Grants
·         $441,000 for Senior Meals
·         $3.9 million for Employment Service Grants
·         $5 million for Dislocated Worker Grants
·         $5.4 million for vocational rehabilitation programs
·         $7.2 million for immunization programs
 

Some of these programs yield more "bang for the buck" than others, and there's an argument to be made that the stimulus bill has too much of a grab-bag quality. Yesterday Daily Kos user TocqueDeville lamented the fact that Democrats put together a spending bill instead of "a big, unifying vision for the future - a Rebuilding America Act." I agree with much of the critique and would have liked to see some different spending priorities.

That said, even an imperfect spending bill will do more to stimulate the economy than the tax cuts favored by Republicans.

I don't know the specifics of the amendment Grassley supports, but in general making low-rate mortgages more accessible would be good. It was stupid as well as unethical for Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other wise men of Wall Street to encourage so many Americans to buy adjustable-rate mortgages.

I was surprised to see Grassley say that the low-rate mortgage provision would be enough to win his vote for the stimulus. Senator Judd Gregg got a post in Barack Obama's cabinet and still won't vote for the bill.

If Grassley ends up voting yes on the stimulus, the wingnuts will go ballistic, but what can they do other than add a line to Grassley's entry on the Iowa Defense Alliance "Wall of Shame"?

In other stimulus-related news, Obama published an op-ed in the Washington Post making the case for this package. Excerpt:

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

It's a start, but I agree with early Obama supporter Theda Skocpol. Obama mishandled this effort by making bipartisanship (instead of saving the economy) his measure of success. He can undo some of the damage by going directly to the people to make the case for the stimulus. But unfortunately, the Republicans still have the upper hand if they vote against the bill and blame the president for not giving them enough input.

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