Obama's stimulus bill, I just learned, was 50% larger in constant dollars than the New Deal. To be sure, it was one bill, not a wholesale institution of baseline social insurance protections as groundbreaking policies. But the fact that it was significantly bigger than the New Deal in absolute terms was really eye-opening to me.
[Maybe the Kos community was up on all of this: I searched for a diary about this topic. I learned the above fact and much more from David Plotz's review of Michael Grunwald's book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. If someone else has already diaried this, I'll delete this one.]
I was very aware that the stimulus included about $90 billion for clean energy, which was astonishing, because the feds were only spending a few billion dollars a year before. The stimulus was pouring unprecedented funding into wind, solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; advanced biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; and factories to make all that green stuff in the U.S.Below the "orange thing", there is more.
It was clearly a huge deal. And it got me curious about what else was in the stimulus. I remember doing some dogged investigative reporting—OK, a Google search—and learning that the stimulus also launched Race to the Top, which was a real a-ha moment. I knew Race to the Top was a huge deal in the education reform world, but I had no idea it was a stimulus program. It quickly became obvious that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the formal name of the stimulus) was also a huge deal for health care, transportation, scientific research, and the safety net as well as the flailing economy. It was about Reinvestment as well as Recovery, and it was hidden in plain view.
So I decided to do a piece for Time about this untold story. But my editors thought I was nuts. The stimulus was old news. Unemployment was 9 percent; what else was there to say?
Here is an excerpt from Plotz's review on Slate:
Plotz's question: The New Deal produced tangible, monumental physical achievements—dams, trails, works of art, buildings. The stimulus produced none of that. There were no new bridges—instead they repaved old ones. Why? Why didn’t the Obama administration look for physical structures to build and celebrate?Read the entire review below. It covers the facts, the politics, and is not the product of a hagiographer:
I wouldn’t say “none of that.” The stimulus is producing the world’s largest wind farm, a half dozen of the world’s largest solar arrays, and America’s first refineries for advanced biofuels. It’s creating a battery-manufacturing industry for electric vehicles almost entirely from scratch. It financed net-zero border stations and visitors centers, an eco-friendly new Coast Guard headquarters, a one-of-a-kind “advanced synchrotron light source.” It jump-started three long-awaited mega-projects in Manhattan alone—the Moynihan Station, the Second Avenue Subway, and the Long Island Railroad connection to the East Side—and it would have jump-started that multibillion-dollar rail tunnel to New Jersey as well if Governor Chris Christie hadn’t killed the project.
It didn’t build new dams, because we don’t need new dams, but it did finance the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history to restore salmon flows on the Elwha River. It even distributed $50 million to artists.
But I take your point. Most of the money in the stimulus went to unsexy stuff designed to prevent a depression and ease the pain of the recession: aid to help states avoid drastic cuts in public services and public employees; unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other assistance for victims of the downturn; and tax cuts for 95 percent of American workers. And the money that did flow into public works went more toward fixing stuff that needed fixing—aging pipes, dilapidated train stations, my beloved Everglades—than building new stuff. In its first year, the stimulus financed 22,000 miles of road improvements, and only 230 miles of new roads. There were good reasons for that. Repairs tend to be more shovel-ready than new projects, so they pump money into the economy faster. They also pass the do-no-harm test. (New sprawl roads make all kind of problems worse.) And they are fiscally responsible. Repairing roads reduces maintenance backlogs and future deficits; building roads add to maintenance backlogs and future deficits.
For me, my reaction to some of this information was "wow, just wow." And in between the parts of my busy life and parenting I try to keep informed and think I do better than most. That said, I agree with Grunwald's assessment that the stimulus proved to be a massive accomplishment hidden in plain sight. I knew it to be extremely effective in stemming the economic bleeding, but I somehow naively had been figuring a lot of its long-term impact would be melting away as the economy picked up its own steam.
Earlier today I happened to stumble on a youtube video of Obama announcing passage of the health care passage. Obama mentioned in announcing it how long we had waited -- since the New Deal era in fact -- to have significant progress on health care reform. An advocate of single payer and someone who had spoken at rallies in support of the public option and otherwise agitated as I could, the bill wasn't what I wanted. But DAMN, this President did a helluva lot. We've got to make sure he gets a chance to do more.
And Romney and Ryan, well, we know they'd like to undo as much of the above and more as they can and give it back to themselves and their friends -- so they can recycle it back into political disinformation campaigns to further entitle the 1%, squirrel it away in offshore accounts, and give nothing toward the future of our nation and its people....
Keep fighting! It feels as if Rmoney and Ryan are back on their heels -- but there is a lot of money yet to be spent.....