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The people who brought us the Great Bank Robbery of 2008 are back at work, and this time they’re doing something for which they are uniquely qualified: shoveling tons of pork back to the folks in their home districts.
An armada of Brinks trucks, their engines still hot from a breakneck midnight run to deliver $350 billion in ”bailout” funds to the nation’s banks, are being reloaded with cash at the U.S. Treasury for the next episode of our ongoing cliffhanger, ”Rescuing the U.S. Economy.”
When we last left this soap opera, we were digesting the distressing news as reported on page one of Sunday’s New York Times that thus far the ”no strings attached” bank bailout moolah has been pocketed by the banks without any noticeable effect on the credit freeze it was supposed to remedy.
Undeterred by the apparent failure of its last fiscal magic trick, Congress is moving full speed ahead to push all of its chips into the middle of the table.
The majority party in the House of Representatives has unveiled an $825 billion spending orgy it is calling an ”economic recovery” bill. President Obama says he want this stimulus mega-package ready for his signature within the next three weeks, so no doubt it will move through Congress at warp-speed.
(Warning to readers who resolved to go on a fat-free diet for the new year: you might want to stop here.) This is what’s on the menu in Washington:
— $275 billion: Tax cuts
Includes a tax cut of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples by reducing payroll tax withholdings, and a proposal that would allow businesses to cut taxes by writing off current losses against profits earned in the past five years (instead of the usual two years).
— $119 billion: Aid to states for health care and other essentials
Includes $87 billion to temporarily increase aid to states for Medicaid costs; $25 billion for high priority needs like public safety and other critical services; and $7 billion to help needy families.
— $117 billion: Education
Includes $41 billion to local school districts for schools serving impoverished and disabled students, and for school construction costs; $39 billion to local school districts, public colleges, and universities; $15 billion to states for meeting key performance measures; and $22 billion for higher education, including increased funding for Pell grants.
— $106 billion: Aid for unemployed and the needy
Includes $43 billion to extend jobless benefits and provide training services; $39 billion to help unemployed extend medical benefits through COBRA, and to provide short-term options to be covered by Medicaid; $20 billion to increase the food stamp benefit by more than 13 percent; $4 million to increase Social Security benefit payments for low-income disabled and elderly people.
— $90 billion: Infrastructure
Includes $30 billion for highway and bridge construction; $31 billion to repair federal buildings and other public infrastructure and make them more energy efficient; $19 billion for water and environmental projects; $10 billion for public transit and rail systems.
— $54 billion: Energy investments
Includes $32 billion for “smarter” electricity grid and renewable technology; $22 billion to repair public housing, make federal infrastructure more energy efficient and provide aid to low-income people to weatherize their homes.
— $16 billion: Investments in science and technology
Includes $10 billion for scientific research and facilities and $6 billion to expand broadband internet services to rural areas.
— $48 billion: ”Miscellaneous”
Actually, the $48 billion piece wasn’t labeled ”Miscellaneous” in the proposed bill. It was simply tagged ”Other” by the people’s representatives. Hey, you can’t expect Congress to waste time with an extra syllable or two when they’ve got trillions of dollars to spend.
Let’s hope the ”other” $777 billion in this bill actually goes where it is supposed to. To paraphrase the late Everett Dirkson:
”A trillion here and a trillion there, and pretty soon this will amount to real money.”