In The Press

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Op Ed Article

Amidst our rapidly deteriorating economic situation, President Barack Obama and members of Congress have an extraordinary responsibility—and opportunity—to revive our fortunes. Beginning with the president himself, the politicians in Washington are letting us down.

I was among those who over the last two years joined Barack Obama’s cause to change the way business is done in Washington.  I campaigned for him.  I donated the maximum amount of money allowed by law to his campaign. And it is with profound disappointment that I say in the context of the debate over stimulating the economy he has failed to put meaning to the words “hope” and “change”.

This is a difficult thing for me to say. Prior to President Obama’s campaign I had never taken part in a political movement; I was one of those new people he famously brought with him into the process for the first time. I still maintain hope that he can embody the high ideals he inspired in those of us who supported him in the New Hampshire primary and the General Election but by every measure the crafting of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, also known as the stimulus plan, has been an exercise in the “old politics” Mr. Obama so effectively ridiculed as a candidate.

Instead of leveraging enormous bipartisan goodwill and a genuine collective enthusiasm for reform, the politicians in Washington who crafted the stimulus plan reverted to classic Beltway deal making and borrow-and-spend economics that rewards favored constituencies and pits tomorrow’s taxpayers against today’s consumers of government largesse. Worse, the Senate compromise version of the bill was only made available to the public on Sunday, February 8th. The openness and transparency the president promised us during the campaign, not to mention his commitment to get Americans involved in the government again, seems ever more like an empty talking point in hindsight.

The measures passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate fail to address the urgent need for immediate small business job creation and economic relief for families. Like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of only a few short months ago, the stimulus plan comes heavy with promises but light on meaningful reform; repeating the mistake of throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at a problem without even the pretense of systemic reform.

Just like TARP, the stimulus bill looks more like a bailout; not of big banks, but of irresponsible states.  The stimulus bill contains over $200 billion for state and local governments. The politicians tell us this bailout will prevent state governments from having to raise taxes to make up for their shortfalls.  Really?  Who’s going to pay the taxes to finance the new government spending in the stimulus plan?  The same hardworking families who would have to pay for the state shortfalls! New government spending—whether at the federal, state or local levels—is paid for by taxpayers.  Period.

What’s worse, because the states in the worst shape will get a disproportionate share of the $200 billion, the bailout to the state governments will actually penalize those governors and state legislatures that have managed their budgets prudently and reward those who have mismanaged their finances. Why should New Hampshire taxpayers pay for California’s irresponsible borrow-tax-and-spend budgeting?

At times the president has sounded like a stereotypical politician running for office. Ironically, this is something he avoided doing when he was a candidate.  He recently called tax relief for job-creating businesses “the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis.” This is intellectual dishonesty.  Worse, it displays a jarring out-of-touchness for a guy who so “got it” over the past two years. According to a recent IBD/TIPP poll sixty-seven percent of Americans believe cutting federal taxes for businesses will stimulate the economy.

While he was running for president, Barack Obama tapped into a raging disillusionment toward the federal government. Americans who believed Washington politicians were in it for themselves and unconcerned about the lives of regular Americans flocked to his campaign by the hundreds of thousands. As one of those Americans, I am sad to report the return of the disillusionment for which we believed Barack Obama was the salve.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan as presently constructed by both the House and the Senate was conceived in the shadowy halls of power in Washington and will not adequately address our urgent need for economic stimulus. That’s why I have initiated STEWARD—Stimulate The Economy Without Adding Record Debt, a grassroots organization dedicated to advocating for a more responsible stimulus plan. If you share our concerns I encourage you to join our cause. Until a bill is signed I still believe that with the right amount of pressure from the people, President Obama and members of Congress can do the right thing by our economy, our small businesses and our working families.

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