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Roads, Rails, Energy, Education Left Out of Stimulus

By       Message Craig Harrington       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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President Barack Obama’s $819 billion stimulus package passed Congress Wednesday without a single Republican vote in its favor. The plan was heralded by the Obama administration as a breakthrough in policy, but it seems to have already fallen completely flat. The bill as it was originally intended was built toward infrastructure projects, energy investments, healthcare and welfare aid, and tax cuts.

However, after being coddled by “supply-side” Republicans much of the funding for infrastructure, energy and individual aid were dropped in favor of more tax cuts – tax cuts have failed for decades, but Congress wants to give it another shot. The bill went from being marginally acceptable to being almost utterly listless overnight. To make matters worse, after destroying the plan with their concession demands, the Republicans still stood as one block against it.

The United States needs serious infrastructure upgrades; from roads and rails to power grids and flood control, many systems are totally outdated. In 2005 New Orleans was devastated by a hurricane that destroyed its ancient levee systems. Somehow the Army Corps of Engineers was completely overlooked by the new stimulus plan even though it desperately needs funding to protect the city and its residents. In 2003 the United States narrowly avoided a national disaster when a blackout along the east coast nearly spread west to the Rocky Mountains. Over 10 million people lost power, yet the antiquated power grid has seen few upgrades. Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars acquiring foreign oil and we pollute our air, water and ground by burning millions of tons of coal in power plants around the country every day. Yet the new stimulus plan contains fewer provisions for “green” and “alternative” energy projects than were previously sold to the public.

Perhaps the worst offense of all is the lack of road and rail funding in the new project. President Obama promised the largest commitment to basic infrastructure in American history, but the new plan spends only five percent on vital projects that could revolutionize travel and guarantee the creation of thousands of permanent jobs.

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We can take a look at other nations to see what they do with government appropriations during times of need. For example, central China had difficultly supplying power to its exploding population and the inhabitants lived in constant fear of the devastating annual flooding which had terrorized the region throughout its history. The Chinese government eventually stepped in with a massive project – the Three Gorges Dam – which directly provides electrical generation and flood control for the entire region. It also facilitates economic growth by increasing river-borne trade and it contributes funding to building projects throughout the area. There are major drawbacks to building a dam – particularly when the reservoir floods previously dry land – but it was proactive and the project will pay for itself within a few years time.

The U.S. doesn’t have to build a gigantic hydroelectric dam, but we need to do something appreciable. The new plan seems to be nothing more than a waste of $800 billion. The plan has roughly $119 billion in funding which has yet to be appropriated, but it is unlikely – given recent history – that the funding will go toward necessary infrastructure plans. Having given itself a blank check, the government could have gone down any route it chose in new and provocative ways. Any effort, even a failed effort, would have symbolized that our government is not going to approach this problem lying down. There is no limit to what could have been achieved with $800 billion. We could have perfected a super powerful fusion reactor to lead a new generation of energy technologies. We could have pumped funding into schools which ignore science and math, creating a wave of researchers for future projects. Our options were limitless.

If you are going to spend yourself into oblivion anyway why not try for the homerun? The American people needed a revolution, what Congress has given them is more of the same. We are all the worse for it.

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Craig Harrington is pursuing a degree in History and Political Science at The Ohio State University. He is also a journalist for EconomyInCrisis.org.

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