Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bush Not Only Clueless About Economy, But Infrastructure, Too

One can rely on Il Doofus to rebuff godless socialism in all its insidious forms. He blocked the relentless creeping of that menace Monday during a White House meeting with a group of the nation's governors.

A bipartisan group of governors urged GWB to increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works as, among other things, an economic stimulus. His reaction was described as cool, something to the effect that he would rather see how his recently enacted tax rebate stimulus is going to work.

Dana Perino, White House press secretary and economist extraordinaire, is reported to have said, "There's no short-term stimulus to the economy for some of these projects."

First and foremost, no new taxes. This from a report in The New York Times:


Moreover, Ms. Perino said, the president will not accept any bill that raises taxes to finance such projects. Governors would have more money available, she said, if Congress ended the wasteful earmarking of billions of dollars for specific projects.

In a report on Monday, the National Association for Business Economics, a professional group, said, "Economic growth is expected to slow to a crawl in the first half of 2008."

Asked about the president's response, Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, said: "I think I can summarize his remarks best by saying he did not think he would be interested. He wants to see the results of the stimulus package that was just passed."

Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the National Governors Association, described the response as "a fairly significant no."

"There are tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects ready to go," Mr. Rendell said. "I asked the president if he would support spending on those projects as part of a second stimulus package, and he said no."

Other governors pushing for spending on transportation projects include Jon Corzine of New Jersey, a Democrat; Charlie Crist of Florida, a Republican; Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican; and Eliot Spitzer of New York, a Democrat.

After the cool reception at the White House, governors said they would take their proposals to Congress.

First, I'll pose something: Il Doofus doesn't realize that the U.S. economy needs more than just short-term stimulus, regardless of how quickly public works projects would have an effect. We're in long-term trouble, and federal income taxes are indeed going to have to go up in certain brackets. Two and two simply don't add up to five. You can't fight elective wars and engage in expensive nation-building abroad, while running record deficits and giving out big tax breaks at home. It was Il Doofus' game that got us here; it's time to change direction.

There are people on the right who dismiss public works projects as shovel-leaning make-work, arguing that the U.S. stayed mired in the Great Depression for years after such programs were enacted. The New Deal, they argue, didn't ultimately lift the U.S. out of the Depression -- World War II did.

That is true -- and it is a validation of the New Deal, not a repudiation of it. The war empowered the federal government to do things that an obstructionist Supreme Court and a tentative Congress wouldn't let FDR do several years earlier. The country actually became semi-socialist during World War II. No new automobiles were built for four years, because the Detroit factories were, de facto, commandeered for the war effort. Government defense spending surged, and jobs came with that. Needless to say, federal income tax rates on the wealthy weren't low. There was genuinely shared sacrifice. War isn't the best way for this to happen. But it demonstrated the short-term power of government to lift an economy out of a depression.

Then, there's the infrastructure to consider. It seems that the Minneapolis bridge collapse was quickly forgotten in other parts of the country. Our bridges and other infrastructure are in serious decline after decades of neglect. Federal public works spending seems very much in order now.

I'll bring up a personal point, going back 70 years, a biblical lifetime. In 1938, one of my two grandfathers had been forced to abandon farming amid an epic depression and the Dust Bowl. He had superior carpentry skills, but there was little work in that field. He didn't think it was a good idea to take the family to the Bakersfield, California, area and pick fruit for subsistence, a la Tom Joad.

Despite being a lifelong Republican, he took a job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He spent about a year assembling commodes. The pay wasn't good, but it was enough to bring home some hamburger meat or chicken once a week, for a change of pace from the standard beans and cornbread.

A crucial point is that here in Texas, we are still driving safely over some of those bridges built during the WPA era. I would speculate that there are still people taking dumps on a few of the commodes that my grandfather assembled. And, during the time he had to do a WPA job, his family ate. Government can make a difference -- and infrastructure matters.

But, we have a government that is philosophically opposed to any such thing. The approach is very different, and tends to benefit only certain people. More from The Times:

In an effort to avert a recession, Mr. Bush recently signed a $168 billion measure to provide tax rebates to encourage consumer spending and to offer new tax incentives for businesses to buy equipment.

Brian G. Turmail, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said highway spending was not an effective way to stimulate the economy because "it takes too long to get the money into projects."

Rather than asking for an increase in federal highway spending, Mr. Turmail said, governors should seek additional money from the private sector, including pension funds and investment banking concerns. ...

Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters told governors, "The federal role in transportation should be more limited than it is today," and should focus on the Interstate and Defense Highway System and traffic congestion in major metropolitan regions.

They're really on top of things, aren't they?