Associated Press: GOP Joins Spin Game Over Stimulus Jobs

For Immediate Release:

July 10, 2009

Contact:Katie Grant
Stephanie Lundberg
(202) 225 - 3130

Today, the Associated Press released a story demonstrating why the Republicans' "facts" regarding the impact of the Recovery Act on job creation are entirely disingenuous:


REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART, R-FLA., SAID: "There is a new definition for dismal failure: Stimulus. This stimulus."

 

THE FACTS: The argument is based on the idea that unemployment keeps going up despite the transportation spending. That's a non-sequitur. The $48 billion in transportation money represents just 6 percent of the total stimulus. A far greater share of stimulus money, $288 billion, was spent on tax cuts, and conservatives would never accept the argument that rising unemployment proves that tax cuts don't work.


From the Associated Press:
 
House Republicans on Friday declared the nation's economic stimulus efforts a "dismal failure." But the convoluted math they used to disparage the recovery is as murky and meaningless as the White House formula championing the stimulus.
 
Led by the senior Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., committee members argued simultaneously that the government was spending too much money and not spending it fast enough.
 
They argued that projects are mired in red tape, that the slow pace of transportation spending is to blame for rising unemployment, and that the stimulus was not targeted to areas that needed jobs the most.
 
A look at their claims:
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MICA SAID: Transportation money is slow to get out because of "red tape" slowing things down.
 
THE FACTS: Republicans are correct that only a small percentage of the $48 billion in transportation money has been spent. But red tape is a red herring. In fact, stimulus projects have to be ready to begin quickly. Projects that have yet to clear permitting, environmental review or other bureaucratic hurdles won't get funded because they won't meet the law's deadlines.
 
Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., said "doing away with all the environmental restrictions" would speed up stimulus spending. That mischaracterizes both the stimulus and the environmental review process.
 
Since 1970, federally funded projects have required reviews to ensure they don't harm the environment, public health or safety. It's not just about saving endangered species. Environmental restrictions prohibit developers from building highways in areas that would pollute drinking water or send water flooding into nearby basements.
 
Eliminating those restrictions would eliminate the public's right to review and object to projects before they're built.
 
Even if those requirements were waived for stimulus projects, however, it likely would not matter. A May report by the White House Council on Environmental Quality found that no stimulus projects have been substantially slowed by environmental reviews.
 
Mica is correct that the stimulus added some new bureaucratic requirements, but those are primarily oversight rules that require states to report where the money is going and how many jobs are being created.
 
The fact is, Washington is releasing transportation money at an unprecedented clip. Why haven't states spent it already? First, contractors have to bid on the project, to ensure politicians aren't steering money to their cronies. Also states don't typically spend all their money until a project is completed, even though people are already working.
 
Mica pointed to the collapsed Interstate 35 bridge in Minnesota, which was replaced in less than a year, as evidence that Congress can speed up transportation projects when it wants to. But that's a mischaracterization. Minnesota received no federal environmental waivers. Minnesota kept the new bridge the same as the old bridge, so new environmental effects were deemed to be minimal.
 
The real reason the bridge went up quickly? Contractors worked around the clock and through the coldest stretch of winter to finish the $234 million job, spurred on by a $25 million bonus for finishing early.
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REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART, R-FLA., SAID: "There is a new definition for dismal failure: Stimulus. This stimulus."
 
THE FACTS: The argument is based on the idea that unemployment keeps going up despite the transportation spending. That's a non-sequitur. The $48 billion in transportation money represents just 6 percent of the total stimulus. A far greater share of stimulus money, $288 billion, was spent on tax cuts, and conservatives would never accept the argument that rising unemployment proves that tax cuts don't work.
 
The fact is, Republicans don't need to create mathematical head-scratchers to criticize the stimulus. Since President Barack Obama signed the stimulus into effect in February, the nation has lost more than 2 million jobs and unemployment has climbed ever higher. The administration's claims that the law has created or saved 150,000 jobs is based on a misused formula and the number cannot be verified.
 
Whether it's today or in 2012, voters can judge the Obama administration on real job numbers, not rosy White House estimates or gloomy Republican numbers.
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REP. CANDACE MILLER, R-OHIO, SAID: Transportation money is not going to areas that need it most because spending was based on an antiquated formula.
 
THE FACTS: She is correct. Because states have to spend the money quickly, they are steering money to projects that are ready to go. Often that means projects in wealthier areas that can afford planning. So, counties with high unemployment are not favored when money is spent.
 
Changing the formula to favor needy communities would have solved this, but it would not have been easy and would have slowed down the process even more.
 
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