Our so-called representatives in Congress clearly have no idea what to do to get the economy moving again. Just consider some of the line items they've included in the proposed $900 billion stimulus plan -- a plan that is supposed to create jobs and stimulate the economy. The list, compiled by Congressional Republicans and published by CNN.com, bears reprinting in its entirety:
• $2 billion to re-start a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
• $1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.
• A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.
• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).
• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.
• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.
• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to screen and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
• $412 million for CDC buildings and property.
• $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.
• $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."
• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.
• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.
• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
• $500 million for state and local fire stations.
• $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.
• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.
• $160 million for "paid volunteers" at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
• $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
• $850 million for Amtrak.
• $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.
• $75 million to construct a "security training" facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.
• $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.
• $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.
Congressional Republicans categorized the list as an example of "wasteful" stimulus spending. Considering the amount of pork barrel spending those very same Republicans have approved over the years, it may be hypocritical of them to adopt such an outraged tone. But, in this regard, they are right--the new stimulus package is a crapshoot. While many of these projects may be worthy programs, it's doubtful that they're going to create the kinds of jobs necessary to stimulate the economy.
If members of Congress have lost sight of what this economic crisis is all about and whom the stimulus plan is supposed to be helping, perhaps the following sobering statistics will help to remind them what's really at stake here:
According to ABC Action News, more than 3.1 million Americans received foreclosure notices last year -- that translates to one out of every 54 households. And 861,664 families lost their homes last year alone.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that approximately nine million Americans were unemployed in 2008. That does not include the 540,000 employees who lost their jobs in January 2009. As a result, unemployment claims have now reached a 26-year high, with more than four million Americans collecting unemployment benefits. And still the numbers keep growing, as more and more companies attempt to tighten their belts and stave off financial ruin.
The national debt (the total amount of money owed by the government) passed the $10 trillion mark in the fall of 2008 and, according to some predictions, could grow another $3.4 trillion by 2018. As it currently stands, each citizen's share of the national debt (not including personal debt) amounts to roughly $37,000. The Treasury Department has projected that interest payments on the federal debt will be roughly $450 billion this year, not including what we end up shelling out on the proposed stimulus plan. And approximately one-third of our national debt is owned by foreign governments, with the largest chunks held by China, Japan and the United Kingdom, and oil exporters such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and, incredibly enough, Iran.
And this year's federal deficit (the yearly amount by which spending exceeds revenue) will reach a record $1.2 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Again, this figure does not reflect the proposed $900 billion stimulus plan.
To those such as John Whitehead, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, who lived through the Depression, the writing's on the wall. Whitehead believes that the growing deficit threatens the credit of the United States, which could push the economy into a slump deeper than the Great Depression. Whitehead warned that the country's financial strength is at risk due to the sweeping demand for tax relief and a long list of major government spending plans. "I see nothing but large increases in the deficit, all of which are serving to decrease the credit standing of America," said Whitehead. "We're talking about reducing the credit of the United States of America, which is the backbone of the economic system."
The bottom line is this: People are losing their jobs and their homes, and Congress is spending money we don't have on programs that we can't afford and which will not provide immediate relief to the average taxpayer or stimulate the economy in any significant fashion.
If Congress continues in this vein, it won't be long before the nation goes bankrupt. Indeed, we're hanging by a thread as it is.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that we no longer have a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." If our representatives in Congress no longer represent us, then maybe it's time that we throw the scoundrels out of office.
As Thomas Jefferson, our nation's third president, pointed out: "Every generation needs a new revolution."
Follow John W. Whitehead on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rutherford_inst