Recently I was reminded that it’s been awhile since I shot my mouth off about politics. In fact, looking over the articles from the last few months, I’ve been pretty quiet about the activities of our disreputable representatives in Washington, D.C. since the election. I can only chalk this up to lingering Obama afterglow. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a president I’ve actually liked — discounting my childlike admiration for Ronald Reagan, from which I, unlike Sean Hannity, may be excused due to the fact I was eight years old when Reagan left office, it’s the only time we’ve had a president I’ve actually liked. It’s been fun the last month or so, watching Obama attempt to push through legislation and implement policies he has promised he would all along, while the Hannitys and Levins and Becks dial their phony outrage up to piercing levels and jump up and down about how he’s going to reduce the country to a depleted socialist ruin.
But now that I’ve given it some thought, there are one or two things that have happened during the first month of the Obama administration that I could stand to bitch about. The big one is the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill.
I’m onboard for the stimulus, I should tell you. There are a lot of people in this country out of work. There’s also a shitload of stuff that needs done around here — the environment needs cleaned up, the electrical grid needs upgraded, and for Christ’s sake, these solar panels and high-speed internet lines aren’t gonna install themselves. The federal government spending a shitload of our tax dollars to put people to work doing these things is a great idea; it offers some relief in these tough economic times, and it’s accomplishes shit we needed to get done anyway, so it’s not like we’re going broke digging ditches only to fill them in the next day here. Nice going, Mr. President.
My beef is with the billions and billions (and billions) allocated by the bill for stuff that has nothing to do with upgrading our national infrastructure, relieving the tax burden of the poor, or putting people to work. According to this summary from the House Appropriations Committee, there is almost $18 billion designated for various scientific projects, including a billion dollars to NASA, $600 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and $580 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. There’s another $650 billion in there for additional DTV conversion coupons and promotion of the imminent transfer from analog to digital television broadcasts.
Again, let me trip over myself to say that I’m all for throwing piles of money at NASA, NOAA, NIST, the Smithsonian, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and all the other scientific institutions that benefit from the stimulus bill. The National Endowment for the Arts gets $50 million, and I have no problem with that either. We should support science, and we should support the arts. Not that it matters a whole hell of a lot, but the framers of the U.S. Constitution agreed with me — article I, section 8 makes specific mention of promoting the “sciences and useful arts.” I’m about as gung-ho for NASA, public art and public broadcasting as a guy can be. It’s not the money I have a problem with, and it’s not who that money is going to, all of whom are deserving recipients (except for that DTV thing — that’s a huge fucking waste of money). It’s the fact that they’ve been given this money as part of a humongous 1,000-page piece of legislation that was sold to the American people as an economic stimulus package.
This sort of thing is commonly referred to as an omnibus bill, because it contains an array of items rather than focusing on one particular measure. Throwing everything into one humongous bill makes it easier for the members of congress, who get to vote on everything all at once instead of holding a series of votes on several more narrowly focused bills. As a citizen of the United States and a voter, I’m not all that interested in making things easier for our already spoiled senators and congresspeople. I’d rather adapt the process to the represented than the representatives.
Much was made in the lead-up to the passage of the stimulus bill of the fact that none of the members of congress called upon to vote for or against it had actually read it. This is nothing new. Recall the Patriot Act. Recall the interview with Rep. John Conyers in Fahrenheit 9/11, when Conyers, now the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, condescendingly informed Michael Moore that, “we don’t read most of the bills we pass.” And recall Moore not asking the obvious follow-up: Well, why the fuck not?!
I can’t blame Obama for too much of this, because this is the way things are and have been for many years. Massive pieces of legislation are routinely debated and voted on by men and women who have no idea what they actually say. There are countless laws on the books which have never been read by the legislators who passed them or the presidents who signed them. I do wish Obama had raised more of an objection, though, when he asked congress to send him a bill free of pork and pet projects to sign, and they responded with this haphazardly assembled monstrosity. He figured, I supposed, that getting it passed would be hard enough with his fellow Democrats squarely behind him, and it wasn’t worth the risk of pissing them off by insisting on a more disciplined bill. And people accuse him of being too much of an idealist . . .
There are many, many ways in which the federal government should be reformed. (I can think of ten just off the top of my head.) One of the most urgently needed reforms is to ban the introduction of massive omnibus bills like this one. Another is to mandate that bills being considered for a final vote should be made available to the public for a reasonable amount of time before that vote, to give constituents a chance to review the legislation and voice their support or opposition to their representatives. The House Democrats promised to make the stimulus bill available to the public for 48 hours before voting on it, which they did not. It shouldn’t be optional. Government should be transparent and responsive to the needs and concerns of the people.
The full text of the bill passed by congress and signed by the president is right here, if you’re curious on what it says now that there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m all for the government putting people to work doing jobs that need done, and I’m all for funding the arts and sciences, but not like this. One thing at a time, not everything all at once. If it makes the jobs of my congressman and senators more difficult, good. They could stand to break a sweat now and then, the soft bastards. And if Barack is serious about changing the way things are done in Washington, he’s going to have to put his foot down. He’d probably say that this would have been the wrong time to fight that battle, that the economic situation is too dire and the need for relief too urgent (which is the excuse floated for not giving us two days to look the bill over as promised). But that excuse won’t work too many more times. It’s a battle that will have to be fought at some point, or nothing will ever change.
. . .
Wait, I said I had more than just the stimulus bill to bitch about, didn’t I? Okay, here’s another thing, then. Joe Biden: is that guy a moron or what? I mean, Jesus Christ almighty. The conservative cheering section on talk radio has been deriding Barack for sound too pessimistic about the economy, but what about Biden? The fucking dope, he just couldn’t help himself, he had to get to a microphone somewhere and say, “Oh, hey, you know there’s a decent chance that all this money we’re spending to prop up the economy won’t do a goddamn thing, right?” Good going, Joe.
The true reason for Obama choosing Biden as V.P. becomes clearer every time Biden opens his mouth. It wasn’t for his statesmanship or his diplomatic cred or his wise counsel; it was to discourage assassination. If I were Barack, I’d have Biden standing behind me for every public speech, just to drive home the point: “Think twice before you take me out, because look who’s on-deck.”
I wonder how Jim Webb’s doing these days.