Stimulating the Growth of Government

Published March 6, 2009

On February 17, President Barack Obama signed into law the $790 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus plan.

This massive expansion of the national debt will do little to stimulate the economy but much to permanently expand the size, cost, and power of government. Since some of the loot is going to state and local governments for roads, public transit, schools, and Medicaid, we can be sure these grateful beneficiaries will be back at the trough in two years when the money runs out.

Much to their credit, some governors have had the courage to just say no. “We don’t have a giant piggy bank that we can raid now that times are tough,” South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford told Fox News Sunday on February 22. Sanford, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (all Republicans, all possible candidates for president in 2012) have said they plan to refuse at least some of the stimulus money that would require their states to expand programs to be eligible for aid. Bravo!

Polls show the public opposes the stimulus plan, just as it opposed the bailout plan that preceded it. Funny how that doesn’t get mentioned much by the mainstream media, still very preoccupied with cheering on the new president and his promised “change.”

When CNBC business reporter Rick Santelli, broadcasting from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade just two blocks from Heartland’s office, denounced the stimulus plan amid cheers and jeers from the traders who surrounded him, he touched a powerful current of grassroots resentment and anxiety. He might have launched a national movement. “Rick’s Revolt,” as it’s being called, may yet help the country recover from the excesses of its out-of-touch leaders in Washington, DC.

I should say, for the record, that not all that is in the stimulus plan is bad news. The Wall Street Journal estimates 38 percent of it is tax cuts, which we should always embrace. Some of the spending is on long-lived infrastructure that may increase productivity and future economic growth. It’s appropriate to ask the next generation to help pay for that.

But it’s difficult to see this bone and muscle beneath the thick layers of fat.

Joseph Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute.