Stimulus bill anniversary thread

It’s been a year since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the stimulus bill) into law. I didn’t like the early concessions Obama made to Republicans in a fruitless effort to win their support for the stimulus. I was even more upset with later compromises made to appease Senate conservadems and Republican moderates. They reduced spending in several areas that had real stimulative value (school construction funds, extra money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, aid to state governments) in order to include tax cuts that have much less stimulus “bang for the buck.” Senator Tom Harkin was right to question why 9 percent of the stimulus bill’s cost went toward fixing the alternative minimum tax, for instance.

Still, I supported passage of the stimulus bill. In late 2008 and early 2009 the U.S. economy was losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs per month. Something had to be done. On balance, the stimulus did much more good than bad. Economists agree it has saved or created a lot of jobs:

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

Two and a half million jobs isn’t enough to compensate for the 8 million jobs lost since this recession began, but it’s a start.

Not only did the stimulus create jobs, it greatly increased spending on programs that will have collateral benefits. Incentives to make homes more energy efficient will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers money that they can spend elsewhere. Money for sewer improvements will provide lasting gains in water quality (inadequate sewers and septic systems are a huge problem in Iowa). The stimulus included $8 billion for high-speed rail. It wasn’t nearly enough, of course; we could have spent ten or twenty times that amount on improving our rail networks. But that $8 billion pot drew $102 billion in grant applications from 40 states and Washington, DC. The massive demand for high-speed rail stimulus funding increases the chance that Congress will allocate more funds for rail transportation in the future.

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t believe the stimulus bill created jobs. That’s largely because unemployment remains at a historically high level of 10 percent nationwide. Also, inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings have gone down during the past year. In addition, Republicans have stayed on message about the worthlessness of the stimulus bill, even though scores of them have hailed stimulus spending in their own states and districts.

Democrats on the House Labor and Education Committee released an ad that lists various popular stimulus bill provisions, such as increasing Pell Grants and teacher pay. The ad uses the tag line, “There’s an act for that,” naming the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the end. I don’t think it’s effective, because the ad doesn’t include the word “stimulus.” Few people will realize that the ARRA refers to the stimulus bill.

Bleeding Heartland readers, how do you view the stimulus one year later?

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

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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A few links on passenger rail and transportation policy

Governor Chet Culver rode a train from Iowa City to Chicago Sunday, promoting passenger rail links en route to the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit, which starts Monday.  

After the jump I’ve posted some news relating to passenger rail in Iowa and nationwide, including a follow-up on Congressman Tom Latham’s attempt to transfer funds from high-speed rail to the highway fund.

UPDATE: From the governor’s office on July 27:

Governor Chet Culver and Governor Pat Quinn today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate efforts by Iowa and Illinois to establish passenger rail service from Chicago to Dubuque and from Chicago to the Quad Cities and Iowa City.

In addition, Governor Culver joined leaders from eight states who signed a Memorandum of Understanding in support of regional high-speed rail. That agreement includes, as a key goal, extending passenger service from Iowa City to Des Moines and on to Omaha. […]

Following the signing of the eight-state high-speed rail agreement, Iowa and Illinois officials signed a separate agreement that spells out action to be taken by the transportation departments in both states.

Click here and scroll down to find links to the rail agreements signed in Chicago on July 27.

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More promising signs for passenger rail in Iowa

This Sunday Governor Chet Culver is taking a train tour to promote passenger rail in eastern Iowa, similar to the trip he took through western Iowa last month. After the jump I’ve posted a news release from the governor’s office with details on his planned stops in Iowa City, West Liberty, Durant, Walcott and Moline, Illinois, where the Quad Cities’ passenger rail depot will be located. From there Culver will travel to Chicago for the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit on Monday.

The U.S. has ten high-speed rail corridors, and Business Week reported earlier this summer that the Midwestern and California corridors are well-positioned to receive some of the $8 billion in stimulus funds allocated for high-speed rail. A Federal Railroad Administration official spoke favorably of cooperation among eight midwestern governors, including Culver.

Competition for the stimulus rail funding will be stiff. The T4America blog reported last week that 40 states submitted a combined $102 billion in high-speed rail proposals for the $8 billion in stimulus funds. The overwhelming response from states prompted the House Appropriations Committee to allocate $4 billion toward high-speed rail in the coming year. The Obama administration had asked for $1 billion.

The Culver administration deserves praise for recognizing the benefits of passenger rail routes through Iowa to Chicago. The I-JOBS program included $3 million for expanding passenger rail service, and Iowa also has allocated a portion of our transportation funds from the stimulus bill to rail. These investments will help secure future federal funding for the projects. Rail links will benefit many Iowans who cannot drive (including a growing number of senior citizens) as well as those who prefer not to drive or fly.

Iowa Republicans may mock Culver’s commitment to passenger rail, but governors from both parties recognize the economic benefits that strong rail networks can bring. Those who argue that we cannot afford to invest in passenger rail during an economic recession should read this piece by BruceMcF, one of the best transportation bloggers around.

UPDATE: From the Iowa Global Warming Campaign:

Call Tom Latham NOW and tell him to support Passenger Rail in Iowa. He is trying to strip $3billion! 202-225-5476

LATE UPDATE: From Friday’s Des Moines Register:

Plans for a study needed to revive Des Moines-to-Chicago passenger train service have been put on a side track at least until next year, state officials say.

But Amtrak passenger train service to Dubuque and the Quad Cities appears likely in about two years.

Amtrak had been expected to complete a feasibility study sometime this year for twice-daily train service between Des Moines and Chicago. But the railroad has been deluged with requests for studies elsewhere in the wake of a national push to expand passenger train service, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in Chicago.

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As a result, Amtrak won’t finish the Des Moines study until money issues are resolved to ensure service between Chicago and Iowa City, Magliari said. An Amtrak report in 2008 suggested an Iowa City passenger train could start operating if about $32 million could be obtained to upgrade Iowa tracks and signals. […]

Iowa Department of Transportation Director Nancy Richardson said this week she hopes money issues for the Iowa City train can be resolved by early next year, which would permit work to completed on the Des Moines train study. The state agency is seeking federal economic-stimulus money for the Iowa City project.

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