Paul Ryan and the Stimulus, Part 2: Make Him Stop!

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The blogosphere has done a nice job of exposing the lies and hypocrisies in Paul Ryan’s prime-time convention speech — not that it will have any effect on his unassailable reputation for courageous straight talk. I’ve already banged my spoon on this high chair before, but I do feel a special responsibility to recount the golden boy’s lies and hypocrisies about my pet topic, President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill.

O.K., let’s go to the transcript.

Ryan: “The first and most troubling sign came with the stimulus, President Obama’s first and best shot at saving the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule.”

(PHOTOS: Republican National Convention 2012)

I don’t want to start out with a quibble, since there are whoppers to come, but Obama didn’t get everything he wanted. As I report in my new book, The New New Deal, congressional Republicans settled on a strategy of obstruction even before Obama took office — and with only 58 Democrats in the Senate, he needed to attract several Republicans to break a GOP filibuster.

So Arlen Specter, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe all insisted that the stimulus could not be larger than $800 billion — as did at least a half-dozen Democrats. Specter also insisted (over the foulmouthed protestations of Rahm Emanuel) that it include $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health, research dollars that have already created breakthroughs in treating Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and cancer as well as embarrassing stories about studies of cocaine-addicted monkeys and the sexual habits of drunken coeds. Collins killed an Obama plan to build and renovate schools across the nation. And Snowe demanded the inclusion of an annual fix that exempts the middle class from alternative minimum taxes, which cost $70 billion and provided no stimulus. Obama had no choice but to say yes, because legislation that didn’t pass the Senate wouldn’t have helped the economy.

Ryan: “It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare anachronism at its worst.”

(PHOTOS: The Art of Political Stagecraft)

Don’t get me started on Solyndra, which was chosen from among 143 applicants to receive the first clean-energy loan by … the Bush Administration. (The Energy Department’s career staff delayed the deal just before Bush left office, prompting his Administration to apologize profusely to Solyndra’s CEO.) The company had raised $1 billion in private capital, and its make-believe markets included fly-by-night customers like Frito-Lay and Southern California Edison. It failed because solar got cheap; solar installations have increased over 600% since the stimulus passed, which is why companies like Solar City and SunRun Homes are booming. Solyndra failed, and other stimulus-assisted companies will fail, but thousands of others are thriving. In any case, Republicans have subpoenaed 300,000 pages of Solyndra documents and haven’t found any wrongdoing.

In fact, the rampant fraud and corruption that Republicans predicted before the stimulus passed just hasn’t materialized. Independent experts had predicted that 5% to 7% of the money would be lost to fraud; so far, documented losses have amounted to about 0.01%. The hardnosed investigator who watchdogged the stimulus, Earl Devaney, told me he was flabbergasted by the cleanliness of the enterprise; as he pointed out, you’d have to be an idiot to try to steal the most scrutinized federal dollars in history. And I’m aware of only one instance of inappropriate political pressure involving stimulus money, because I broke the story in my book; Valerie Jarrett summoned an Energy Department official to the Situation Room to push him to approve a loan to a company called USEC, which Obama had promised to help on the campaign trail. But the official resisted, and Jarrett backed off.

Ryan: “What did taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn’t just spent and wasted. It was borrowed, spent and wasted.”

Sigh. It’s rich to hear Ryan — who voted for the Bush tax cuts, the Bush wars and security spending, the Bush prescription-drug benefit, the Bush bank bailout, the Bush stimulus in 2008 and, yes, a $715 billion House Republican substitute stimulus that was extremely similar to the Obama stimulus in January 2009 — complain about debt.

Yes, the stimulus added to the debt. But you know what really would have added to the debt? A depression. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy crashed at an 8.9% annual rate. At that pace, we would have lost an entire Canadian economy in a year. We lost 800,000 jobs in January. Then the stimulus passed in February, quickly pouring money into the economy through aid to states, which saved hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs and helped prevent tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Medicaid cuts; tax cuts for 95% of the workforce; aid to victims of the Great Recession, which helped keep 7 million Americans out of poverty; and $250 checks to every senior and disabled veteran. As a result, the next quarter reflected the biggest improvement in jobs in 30 years. The economy was still weak, but it was no longer grotesque.

The stimulus also included unprecedented investment in clean energy, doubling the generation of renewable electricity, pouring $25 billion into energy efficiency in every form, jump-starting a smart electric grid, launching a battery industry for electric vehicles from scratch and financing the nation’s first refineries for advanced biofuels. It is dragging our pen-and-paper health care system into the digital age, so that we’ll all have electronic medical records by 2015 and our doctors won’t kill us with chicken-scratch handwriting. It created Race to the Top, which has been hailed as a landmark education-reform program by left-wingers like Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels. It included the largest infrastructure investment since Eisenhower’s, the largest middle-class tax cut since Reagan’s, the largest new research spending ever. It modernized unemployment benefits, pioneered a homelessness-prevention program that kept 1.2 million Americans off the streets and reformed the way government spends money.

Oh, and the top economic forecasters agree that at its peak the stimulus added between 2% and 4% to the GDP, the difference between contraction and growth, and saved or created about 2.5 million jobs. Some of it went to Ryan’s district, after he wrote five letters asking for stimulus cash. So maybe it wasn’t all wasted.