GOP Senators Pick Their Pork

Well the gloves came off this morning. What GOP Leaders deem wasteful in Senate stimulus bill

House Republicans unveil list of “wasteful” Senate stimulus spending
Stimulus bill passed in the House without any Republican support
One provision: A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers
Another concern: $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI

I have listed all the line items below the fold divided into five categories. 1) ‘Spending that could use some explanation’ This includes that Hollywood tax break (hint the four words left out of Highlights make a difference) 2) Equipment purchases 3) Building and Infrastructure 4) Public Health 5) Jobs.

Let us set some parameters. There is a distinction between ‘wasteful’ and ‘inefficient’. That is there is spending that may not meet somebody’s policy preferences (wasteful) but still has stimulative effects over the short term. And then there is spending that everyone agrees would be useful but which doesn’t go into effect fast enough. If you look at the Republican list as it shows in the original story these two categories are blurred and blended with no real explanations as to which they consider which.

Jobs. $3.185 billion If the major challenge facing us short term is unemployment then direct spending on jobs is a pretty efficient way to inject money into the system. And certainly better than just extending unemployment insurance (though we need to do some of that too). Which makes Republican opposition on this front a little odd to start with, particularly when we examine the first three line items. $1 billion for the Census. Well this is one of the very few specific Constitutional mandates, we have to do it good times or bad, as it happens we will be needing census workers right at the point we are projecting our greatest rate of unemployment. Exactly how does this fall in the category of ‘wasteful’? Particularly since there is a $3 billion gap between authorization and projected costs? I don’t get it. $75 million for FBI salaries. We got news stories last week showing that the FBI was aware of major mortgage fraud but had diverted existing resources to counterterror duties. Unless you believe that Wall Street reformed itself overnight it is hard to see why this is in any sense ‘wasteful’. Not only do we need the Agents this translates directly to jobs. $650 million for wildfire management. Translation: fire crews. In recent years for whatever reason the fire season has been getting longer and more destructive and the Forest Service has consistently blown through its fire fighting budget requiring diversions from other programs. Plus these are great opportunities to get young workers into the work force in jobs that allow on the job training. Economic efficiency and public safety combined, yet it made the list. The other three line items which total $1.46 billion merit some discussion but all translate directly into jobs that offer on the job training and which also can be put in place quickly. The GOP seems to be straining here.

Public Health $500 million dollars. Prevention of STDs $400 million. Prevention of any infectious disease translates to productivity improvements. The apparent basis for including this on the list is that the GOP would rather have people get sick than let women have access to reproductive controls. It is all about the condoms. The remaining $100 million is for smoking cessation and tribal alcohol abuse. You can make the economic argument for either but really this is a joke. We are talking about .012% of the package here. It just seems that the GOP hates spending any tax money on public goods.

Building and infrastructure. At $10.6 billion by far the largest category. And while you can argue the merits of spending $6 billion upgrading Federal buildings to make them more “green” (which sounds more wasteful than calling it what it is “more energy efficient”) all of these projects translate directly into jobs. It is just hard to see the economic argument at work here. Plus you have to have a heart as hard as a stone to reach way down into the package to highlight $5.5 million in spending at the VA National Cemetary Administration. That is .0006% of the total. (And yes the money is probably going to be spent at headquarters, but still the symbolism stinks).

Equipment. $1.8 billion. Maybe the Coast Guard doesn’t need a new icebreaker. On the other hand polar nations are in a scramble to establish claims to newly reachable gas and oil resources on the Arctic Sea floor. $88 million doesn’t seem like a lot to spend to beef up our arctic presence. I have no idea why this made the cut. But the rest is pretty explicable. The Republicans have always hated Amtrak ($850 million) and typically poo-poo “green” anything including alternative energy vehicles ($800 million). But it is hard to see the economic argument against any of this.

Which leaves us with $2.9 billion in what reasonably could be seen as pork. $2 billion for a clean coal plant defunded last year on grounds of “inefficiency”. Maybe Dr. Chu has some ideas about how to correct the problem but it doesn’t look good on the surface. $650 million on TV convertor boxes. Well there is a public policy case to be made here, but considering the units are probably made in Malaysia or China, the economic case seems shakier. And that tax break for Hollywood producers. Like those guys need more money. On the other hand the actual tax break is for buying motion picture film. So maybe there is an economic case to be made that this creates jobs. On the Left Coast. So it is easy to see why this made the cut. But $2.9 billion is only about .4% of the whole package.

In fact if we add it all together (which the original article doesn’t) we are a shade under $19 billion or 2.15%. Sorry this is not an economic argument for waste or inefficiency, they simply threw everything they could into the mix and created a laundry list to give some cover to their real agenda. Which is as it has always been-tax cuts for the wealthy.

Detailed breakout under the fold.

Spending that could use some explanation
• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
• A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.
• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
Total: $2.9 billion

• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).
• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
• $850 million for Amtrak.
• $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.
Total: $1.8 billion

Building and Infrastructure
• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.
• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.
• $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.
• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into “green” buildings.
• $500 million for state and local fire stations.
• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
• $412 million for CDC buildings and property.
• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.
• $5.5 million for “energy efficiency initiatives” at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
• $75 million to construct a “security training” facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.
• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
Total $10.6 billion

Public Health
• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD’s.
• $75 million for “smoking cessation activities.”
• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction
Total $500 million

• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.
• $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.
• $1.2 billion for “youth activities,” including youth summer job programs.
• $160 million for “paid volunteers” at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
• $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.
Total: $3.185 billion