Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama banking on stimulus “playing in Peoria” and rest of the United States

In general, I’m supportive of the concept of a stimulus package as proposed by President Barack Obama, because I realize the economy is in such a shambles these days that it will take drastic action to jolt the country back to a sound financial state.

I use the word “drastic” because it strikes me as the most appropriate way to describe spending nearly $827 billion in federal funds on various projects (in addition to the money that would have been provided in the federal budget) in hopes that they will create more jobs for people, thereby reducing unemployment and bolstering the economy.

WHEN PUT THAT way, Obama’s “stimulus” sounds a lot like the “Illinois First” program of public works projects that is a part of the legacy of former Gov. George Ryan.

That was the plan by which municipalities across the state got extra money for road repairs, public construction and other local government projects. Back then, Ryan justified the expense as being a worthwhile use of what was then a surplus of state government funds.

That is far from the current situation at the federal level. Nobody is operating under the belief that a surplus exists in the federal government’s accounts.

But it strikes me as interesting that the reaction from local government officials is remarkably the same.

THOSE LOCAL OFFICIALS are looking at the stimulus package as a chance to get the money for projects they were dreaming about, but were not otherwise counting on being able to do at this time.

One of the things I do to bring in some money is news reporting for a daily newspaper in the Chicago suburbs. For what it is worth, I have stumbled across towns that are wishing, hoping, praying that Congress manages to approve a stimulus package.

Because when it comes to expanding the taxiway for a runway at a local airport or paying for improved access and sewage connections to an industrial park, these are projects that have the potential to provide for some good back in their home communities.

And these are minor examples of how the stimulus is viewed outside of the District of Columbia.

MAYOR RICHARD M. Daley on Monday said he wants Congress to get off its collective duff (No, I’m not talking about Homer Simpson’s favorite brand of beer) and approve the stimulus.

He said that up to 15 miles of public transit lines, 200 schools, 150 miles of streets and 75 miles of sewer lines could be improved, with money coming from the package.

Illinois government officials estimate that of the total package, about $28 million could wind up coming to our beloved home state, with the proceeds being split up among the hundreds of municipalities across Illinois.

Now I understand that Republican politicians are playing hardball politics on this issue. I never expected the GOP’s members of Congress to become patsies for Obama, particularly on an issue such as this, where the idea of spending money on projects overseen by government goes against the basic philosophy that got many of those people into electoral politics in the first place.

BUT THE POINT is that being in the Chicago area, I can see how the idea plays in these troubled economic times. People want to give this concept a chance.

If it were to truly fail to jump-start the economy, we’re prepared to pillory Obama later. But too many of us are willing to give the idea a chance now.

That shows me either the GOP’s legislators in Congress (who unanimously rejected the idea when it was in the House of Representatives and are prepared to overwhelmingly vote against it in the Senate) are out of touch with the way the rest of the country thinks.

Or perhaps they just don’t care. They’re more interested in touting conservative economic principles than trying to find a practical solution to the economic troubles that confront us now.

WHAT SCARES ME is that former President Herbert Hoover generally gets blamed for the Great Depression of the early 1930s, in part because he did not want the federal government to take an active role in trying to jolt the economy.

It was the following president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose “alphabet soup” set of programs to create work (NRA, WPA, etc.) who generally gets credited with ending the Depression (even though it was really the entry of the United States into the Second World War that ended it).

It’s like these Republican officials have learned little to nothing from U.S. history. They run the risk of holding true to some ideological line (perhaps they listen too closely to Rush Limbaugh and his dittohead halfwits), while the other side comes up with a solution.

So when I see that Obama was in Elkhart, Ind., to persuade the locals to support his stimulus proposal, or that he plans to make similar appearances in Fort Myers, Fla., or Peoria, Ill. (where he will tour the Caterpillar plant where farm machinery is made, just after appearing at the 200th Birthday anniversary festivities in Springfield for Abraham Lincoln), I think that it is cute for the president to appear before the masses.

BUT A PART of me thinks it would be better for the Republican caucuses of the House and Senate to visit these places.

Perhaps if they heard firsthand how desperate the populace feels about the economy, they’d be more willing to try to find a solution – rather than sticking to ideological concepts that 50 or so years from now threaten to make them look foolish.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago city officials already are spending what could be their (http://www.suntimes.com/news/cityhall/1420782,daley-reacts-stimulus-package-020909.article) share of stimulus package funds, even before Congress approves it.

Lansing and Sauk Village in southeastern Cook County are hardly unique when it comes (http://nwi.com/articles/2009/02/09/news/illinois/doc2f86fa007942405d8625755700816ae7.txt) to looking at the stimulus package as a way of improving the quality of life within (http://www.nwi.com/articles/2009/01/30/news/illiana/doca69fdd5a7070c7468625754e0002c340.txt) their boundaries. And yes, these links do have a self-promotional element to them.

Barack Obama will include a Peoria (not the one in Arizona) appearance (http://www.week.com/news/local/39317512.html) as part of his national tour (http://hotlineoncall.nationaljournal.com/archives/2009/02/if_it_plays_in.php) to convince people that his stimulus proposal is good public policy.

No comments: