Step by step through the stimulus bill

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I haven't had a lot to say about politics recently, mostly due to not knowing much about what is going on. I've had my head so far down with everything I have been working on personally that I haven't been paying any attention to the national/international picture. But that's changing, since one of the perks my new job (referred to from here on out as "Cubeland") is a coworker and friend of a decidedly and proudly conservative bent who likes to talk politics. He didn't waste more than a day or two before he started quizzing me on Obama's first few weeks, and in particular the stimulus bill. About which I could say very little, as I haven't kept at all with what is actually in it.

So...I decided to devote a few precious moments and actually read an outline of the package, so I'll be a bit better informed. I got my summary here. And I'm just going to try to tackle it point by point:

Investments in Infrastructure and Science

Infrastructure Improvements
- $7.2 billion for Broadband to increase broadband access and usage in unserved and underserved areas of the Nation, which will better position the U.S. for economic growth, innovation, and job creation.
I have no problem here. I think this is a good idea.
- $2.75 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to secure the homeland and promote economic activity, including $1 billion for airport baggage and checkpoint security, $430 million for construction of border points of entry, $210 million for construction of fire stations, $300 million for port, transit, and rail security, $280 million for border security technology and communication, and $240 million for the Coast Guard.
I don't really think this is necessary, honestly, but whatever, no skin off my nose.
- $4.6 billion in funding for the Corps of Engineers.
I believe this is for things like dams and bridges, right? Isn't that what even the very conservative want government to do?
- $1.2 billion for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements, long-term care facilities for veterans, and improvements at VA national cemeteries.
This isn't enough, frankly. But it's a start. All for it.
- $3.1 billion for repair, restoration and improvement of public facilities at on public and tribal lands.
This one I'd need to dig on a bit. What types of facilities? What types of restoration and improvement? This is maybe not the time to spend on things like that, but it really depends what in specific this means.
- $4.2 billion for Facilities Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization to be used to invest in energy efficiency projects and to improve the repair and modernization of Department of Defense facilities to include Defense Health facilities.
For it. Energy efficiency in public buildings of all kinds should be an immediate priority.
- $2.33 billion for Department of Defense Facilities including quality of life and family-friendly military improvement projects such as family housing, hospitals, and child care centers.
Again, probably not enough, but on the right track. We treat the people we expect to die for us pretty damn badly in this country. I'm for anything that improves that.
- $2.25 billion through HOME and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fill financing gaps caused by the credit freeze and get stalled housing development projects moving.
Makes total sense, don't see what there is to argue with here.
- $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program for community and economic development projects including housing and services for those hit hard by tough economic times.
Again, makes total sense. Unless, of course, you just hate poor people...
- $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas and to ensure adequate water supply to western localities impacted by drought.
Yeah, not a lot to argue with here either.

Transportation
- $27.5 billion is included for highway investments
This seems like a lot, frankly. Is the highway really that terrible? How many people will this employ?
- $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.
Yep. Absolutely.
- $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for transportation investments.
How is this different that the previous two? Confused here.
- $1.3 billion for investments in our air transportation system.
Huh. Is this airline bailout money? Cuz I start to take issue there.
- $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak, High Speed and Intercity Rail.
Probably a good idea, but right now? I don't know. Again, aren't these private companies? Why do they need $9.3 billion in government money?

Public Housing
- $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs -- especially those improving energy efficiency in aging buildings.
Absolutely yes.
- $2 billion for full-year payments to owners receiving Section 8 project-based rental assistance.
Yep.
- $2 billion for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes.
Not sure on this one. Maybe not the most efficient use of housing funds in a recession.
- $1.5 billion for homeless prevention activities, which will be sent out to states, cities and local governments through the emergency shelter grant formula.
Sure, seems prudent given the economy.
- $250 million is included for energy retrofitting and green investments in HUD-assisted housing projects.
See previous opinions on the necessity of increased green energy. It's long past time.

Environmental Clean-Up/Clean Water
- $6 billion is directed towards environmental cleanup of former weapon production and energy research sites.
This makes me nervous. What happens if this doesn't happen? Are these places a hazard? If so, why isn't clean-up already budgeted? Geez.
- $6 billion for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements.
Sure.
- $1.2 billion for EPA's nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.
I'm not sure what this refers to. But if it's a way to get the government to pay for environmental clean-up that businesses should be doing themselves, then it makes me grouchy.
- $1.38 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas.
Seems necessary, but I'd need to see more specifics here.

Science
- $1 billion total for NASA.
Screw this one. NASA can bite me.
- $3 billion total for National Science Foundation (NSF).
Yay!!
- $2 billion total for Science at the Department of Energy including $400 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency--Energy (ARPA-E).
Needed investment, though it may be too little and too late.
- $830 million total for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Again, probably needed investment.

Investments in Health

- $19 billion, including $2 billion in discretionary funds and $17 billion for investments and incentives through Medicare and Medicaid to ensure widespread adoption and use of interoperable health information technology (IT). This provision will grow jobs in the information technology sector, and will jumpstart efforts to increase the use of health IT in doctors' offices, hospitals and other medical facilities. This will reduce health care costs and improve the quality of health care for all Americans.
Huh. Well, depending on job increase, maybe. But this seems kind of large for right now.
- $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs to fight preventable diseases and conditions with evidence-based strategies.
Good plan.
- $10 billion to conduct biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease and stem cells, and to improve NIH facilities.
This stuff funds Mark and those like him. I don't knock this stuff, especially given the cuts NIH has faced in recent years.
- $1.1 billion to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, NIH and the HHS Office of the Secretary to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different health care services and treatment options.
I'm not 100% sure what this means.

Investments in Education and Training
- $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, including $39.5 billion to local school districts using existing funding formulas, which can be used for preventing cutbacks, preventing layoffs, school modernization, or other purposes; $5 billion to states as bonus grants for meeting key performance measures in education; and $8.8 billion to states for high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education and for modernization, renovation and repairs of public school facilities and institutions of higher education facilities.
This is, from what I know and have seen, absolutely a good idea and a necessary expenditure.
- $13 billion for Title 1 to help close the achievement gap and enable disadvantaged students to reach their potential.
Need specifics here.
- $12.2 billion for Special Education/IDEA to improve educational outcomes for disabled children. This level of funding will increase the Federal share of special education services to its highest level ever.
Seems to make sense to lighten burden on local districts given low property taxes right now.
- $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500. This aid will help 7 million students pursue postsecondary education.
Absolutely, though I'd like to see this go a lot farther.
- $3.95 billion for job training including State formula grants for adult, dislocated worker, and youth programs (including $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth).
Can't argue with job training in a recession.

Investments in Energy

- $4.5 billion for repair of federal buildings to increase energy efficiency using green technology.
As previously stated, all for it.
- $3.4 billion for Fossil Energy research and development.
Hmmm...not sure about this one.
- $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid.
Seems a like a big investment for this right now. Is there any impact on jobs?
- $6.3 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grants.
Sure.
- $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Not sure what this is.
- $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research.
Sure. Absolutely. Doesn't even seem like enough.
- $2 billion in grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced batteries systems and components and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States.
Hrm. Shouldn't this be privately funded research?
- $6 billion for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable projects such as wind or solar projects and for electricity transmission projects.
Necessary evil.
- $1 billion for other energy efficiency programs including alternative fuel trucks and buses, transportation charging infrastructure, and smart and energy efficient appliances.
Again, probably a good investment.

Help for Workers and Families Hardest Hit by the Economic Crisis

- $19.9 billion for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps, to increase the benefit by 13.6 percent.
Absolutely.
- Child Care Development Block Grant: $2 billion to provide quality child care services for an additional 300,000 children in low-income families who increasingly are unable to afford the high cost of day care.
I'm in.
- Head Start & Early Head Start: $2.1 billion to allow an additional 124,000 children to participate in this program, which provides development, educational, health, nutritional, social and other activities that prepare children to succeed in school.
Had me at hello.
- State and Local Law Enforcement: $4 billion total to support law enforcement efforts.
Huh. Is this necessary?
- $555 million to expand the Department of Defense Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP) during the national mortgage crisis.
Probably necessary, but makes me cranky.

So, as predicted, this doesn't look too bad to my little tax and spend heart. Some of it I absolutely think is a good idea. I'm a little bit taken aback at the lack of emphasis on job creation and re-employment, but other than that nothing here bothers me much at all.

So tell me, folks, why exactly is everyone hating on this thing? Just because it costs too much?

5 Comments

Commenting on the things you aren't sure about yet:

The infrastructure money to the Corps of Engineers: I'm not sure about bridges, but yes, dams and keeping the Mississippi dredged for boats. The money is basically to make sure projects already underway don't stall for lack of funds.

The infrastructure money for public and tribal lands goes to the Dept. of the Interior, which has been horribly neglected under Republican leadership. Much of it is for "critically deferred maintenance projects" on roads and buildings on national parkland or schools on tribal lands. None of the money appears to be allotted to new mining operations, but does include maintenance on abandoned mines.

The $27.5 billion for transportation in highways goes to state DOTs. Individual states are typically billions short each on maintenance, so this is a conservative amount to divide between the 50 states, as I understand it. While you could probably argue money is better spent on public transit, that takes years to complete and many roads need serious patching right now.

On competitive grants for transportation: I haven't seen that it says this specifically, but my best guess is that this is for new projects where much other funding in this bill is for projects already started that can't be completed without extra funds -- state budget shortfalls and all that.

I don't know anything about the air transit money, but the high speed rail investment includes support of a track and high speed trains between LA and Las Vegas. That's one specific project Repubs have named as pork, I believe.

On redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes under public housing: The Nation magazine did a recent story on a sheriff in Chicago that has refused to do all the evictions his office is charged with and here's an example of why: An appparently common sort of real estate fraud is for a person to buy multi-unit housing, than buy it from himself into a corporation, dividing it up into individual units that somehow either maximizes profit or hides the fraud. That person flees the debt but runs with whatever cash comes of this (not entirely clear on that part), and nonpayment on the debt eventually means innocent renters get evicted AND because the property is divided into so many separate units of sale, the effort to get it all together in a sale to one new investor keeps the property from being used. People become homeless and abandoned property deteriorates.

On the EPA cleanup funding: Yes, there are actual barrels of toxic stuff under govt. jurisdiction leaking because of lack of funding. The Superfund is a Congressional oversight project to help ensure cleanup of private toxic sites happen. Something like 70% of cleanup is funded by responsible parties, but sometimes they go out of business or bankrupt and the govt. has to step in, or even establish liability.

Science: Some of the NASA funding includes climate research, and also repair of NASA sites damaged in the past year by hurricanes and such.

Health care investment: I'm not sure that 19b all goes to info technologies. I think some of it helps state Medicare programs by increasing federal matching funds so fewer people lose service at the state level where funds are being slashed. I know absolutely zero about the IT aspect and its money saving capabilities in the long term.

Education: The money to Title 1 of the ESEA is in support of No Child Left Behind.

Energy: The Fossil Fuel funding researches carbon capture, which mitigates some global warming effects. Weatherization is to help individual homeowners weatherproof their properties (sump pumps, insulation), saving them money and reduce fossil fuel use. The battery research is, I think, meant to jumpstart technologies that reduce carbon emissions of the auto industry.

Some of the state and local law enforcement money is under the Edward Byrne Justice Administration Act, which includes some victim assistance funding. And some money makes sure local hiring freezes don't leave law enforcement too shorthanded, I think.

I agree with you that there's a lack of emphasis on job creation and re-employment. And the price tag might be way too small to make any dent at all in the freefall of job losses.

I find that the hate on this bill is very much Repub ideology -- at least in my neck of the woods -- that govt. spending is always bad. An inexplicable viewpoint to my little tax and spend heart too.

On the air transport part -- one of the biggest problems with air travel, especially in the north, is an outdated air traffic control system that forces planes into certain rigid flight plans. Looking at a summary spreadsheet, the 3b goes to the FAA to upgrade facilities which should help with the process of modernization. It won't be going to the airlines, although reducing delays should help all of they run better and more efficient service.

To add to what Ben said, not only do a lot of the air traffic control systems themselves need to be updated to modern equipment that can actually handle the huge traffic volume (especially in the northeast corridor), but they also need to increase salary and benefits, etc. to the actual workers themselves. Apparently the TSA has been slowly and steadily cutting benefits to the Transportation Union, which has gone largely unnoticed since the union is not very politically powerful. I'd like to see some reform in pay and benefits to the workers in addition to simply upgrading the facilities. Oh, and it would also be nice if some money could be used to upgrade some of the terminals in the northeast. I can say from personal experience that JFK, La Guardia, and Newark airports are s@#$holes that need to be torn down and redone from scratch. Philadelphia's is also pretty bad, although to be fair some of that is due to security restrictions they had to establish after 9/11.

Oh, and I second Grace's "screw you" to NASA! Why is it that they get so much freakin' money, as does the NSF and fuckin' NOAA, but the NIH only gets money to conduct research at their own facilities? Hello?!?!? What about increasing NIH grants to other institutions like, say, MINE?!?!?!?!

Not that I'm bitter or anything. . . :-)

I know that in Colorado the state is negotiating with the police and firefighter's unions for concessions due to the state budget shortfall. We all know that these public servants are underpaid. Plus, statistics show that domestic violence (probably other crimes as well) increases when money gets tight, so police resources are likely to be even more stretched this year.

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