POLITICS
03/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Senate Stimulus Raises Debt Limit Over $12 Trillion, HuffPo Reader Finds

As President Obama flew to Elkhart, Indiana to sell his stimulus package, Huffington Post readers were looking through the Senate's final version of the bill for new spending and irresponsible cuts.

One reader, who asked to be referred to by the HuffPost handle newmexicogold, found that the new Senate version of the stimulus increases the federal debt ceiling to $12.14 trillion dollars, an addition that had yet to be reported.

Increasing the debt limit is a legally necessary move when spending is increased and not offset by revenue increases. It's also a politically unpleasant thing to do, as it reminds people just how far in the red the national books are. That reluctance explains why it took newmexigold to find the provision, buried on page 586.

We will continue to read through the bill as it goes to conference committee and will take another look at the bill as it emerges from those negotiations. Click here to read the current Senate version and sign up to join our research team.

So far, readers have found numerous places where the Senate cut spending, trimming the bill down to $827 billion. Nancy Cox, a teacher from Wilmington, NC, noted that education spending suffered a disproportionate blow from the recent reductions. Spending on programs such as Head Start, Pell Grants, and school construction have all been gutted. Budgeting for school improvement programs - once slated at $17 billion - now consists of just over $1 billion. And the $3.5 billion set for higher education facilities has been wholly removed. Ninety-eight million in school nutrition has also been cut, as musician Martin Weiss pointed out.

The President also took issue with these cuts at today's town hall forum in Indiana. "I'll be honest with you, the Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars," he said. "I would like to see some of them restored."

HuffPost readers Denise Giardina and Spencer Adams found $1 billion for clean coal investment in the Senate bill. Clean coal, as its opponents point out, does not exist, though Obama, during the campaign, called for investment into it. Giardina wasn't happy to see it inserted into the bill. "This is gobbledy gook about an impossibility which simply encourages the ongoing destruction of the Appalachian Mountains by mountaintop removal," she says.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, funded by the coal industry, and The Reality Coalition, funded by environmental advocacy organizations, are in the middle of an expensive advertising battle to define the value of so-called clean coal. This $1 billion item is a victory for the coal industry.

The stimulus package would also appropriate $1.52 billion to "carbon capture" - a process to somehow capture and store carbon emissions. Carbon capture, too, doesn't exist and is opposed as a boondoggle by greens. But as long as the boondoggle spends money on research and equipment, it could still be theoretically stimulative.

Drug-task-force spending was chopped in half, leaving $1.5 billion to be spent under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistant Grant Program--a project riddled by scandals under the Bush administration and otherwise despised by civil libertarians who see it perpetuating the worst abuses of the drug war.

Another HuffPost reader, who goes by the handle Goodberry, spotted the decreased funding and argued that drug enforcement spending has the potential to drastically increase state debt. She reasons that increased spending will inflate the inmate population, forcing states to pay an average of $24,600 a year per inmate according to 2006 numbers from American Correctional Association. By going after low-level drug offenders, "a few officers may be employed, a few new vehicles purchased... but when arrests are made it actually takes money out of the economy and puts potential workers (and taxpayers) 100 percent on the state's dole," Marion said.

It may be a bit macabre to talk about people's freedom in terms of whether it will grow the economy, but while we're at it, here's the counter argument: putting people on the state dole is perfectly stimulative as long as the federal government props up states so they don't have to offset the increased incarceration costs with teacher layoffs or other spending cuts. Thanks to Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), that aid isn't flowing to states, so increased prison costs could be anti-stimulative and lead to layoffs in other state sectors.

A number of advocacy groups have also taken issue with this funding. "If there is going to be government spending, the least you can do is make sure the money is going to have a long term positive impact on the economy," said Leslie Paige, spokesperson for Citizens Against Government Waste.

And Bill Piper of Drug Policy Alliance said "states may well end up paying more in the long run."

Another reader, Virginia Moran, took issue with appropriations for hazardous fuels reduction -- deforestation in areas at high-risk of wildfires -- which has been decreased from $650 million to $485 million. If policy makers are interested in reducing fire related death and property loss, she says, they should concentrate on fireproofing homes and prevent construction on steep slopes, among. "The fire programs have FAILED miserably because they are doing the wrong things," she says.

The President hopes to have this bill through the Senate and out of conference committee by Friday.

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