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Sun., Feb. 21, 2010

Shovel-ready excuses

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., voted against the $787 billion stimulus package passed last year and has called it a failure as recently as Feb. 9 on her blog. Eight days later, she issued a press release touting $35 million in stimulus for the North Spokane Corridor: “As we look to the future, investment in our transportation infrastructure helps to ensure successful economic growth, development and global competitiveness. This international connector will help create more than $140 million annually in revenue to our community.”

U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Idaho Republicans, made sure $468 million was added to the stimulus bill for environmental cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory. They voted against the bill.

Across the country, Republicans are touting federal spending in their districts while denouncing the overall bill that made it happen. Some are even cutting ribbons and hoisting huge checks for the cameras. Hypocrisy? I suppose. Just by showing up, they are refuting their arguments about how federal stimulus hasn’t created any jobs or lifted the economy.

But put yourself in their position. It’s really no different than helping constituents with Medicare and Social Security issues when you oppose such “socialism.” It’s like pursuing “Race to the Top” educational funds while wishing for the demise of the U.S. Department of Education.

So you play the cards you’re dealt. And if voters give you get credit for something you oppose, that’s just a consequence you have to somehow accept.

Against tax cuts? In defending her support of North Spokane Corridor funding, McMorris Rodgers says it’s this kind of funding and more tax cuts that would’ve produced a stimulus package worthy of her support.

This is a puzzling argument, because by historical standards the infrastructure spending and tax cuts in the package are enormous. To say they needed to be bigger is to say that any past spending of this sort that has been smaller, which is to say almost all of it, has been worthless.

The jury is out on infrastructure spending because a lot of the projects, such as the segment of the North Spokane Corridor, haven’t begun yet. The Washington Post reports that only $31 billion of the $226 billion set aside for roads, bridges, broadband, energy efficiency upgrades and other investments has been spent. As it turns out, “shovel ready” didn’t mean immediately. The process of selection and awarding of money takes time.

I think it’s safe to say that when all of that work begins this year, it will be good for employment and the economy.

As for tax cuts, the stimulus package contains $288 billion in tax cuts, making it one of the largest two-year tax cuts in U.S. history. It dwarfs the $174 billion in cuts for the first two years of tax relief under the Bush administration, which Republicans touted as a smart booster shot for the economy.

According to the Washington Post, a total of $119 billion in tax cuts has already been allocated to millions of Americans. Personal exemptions and child credits have been expanded. There is a provision that allows people to duck the higher alternative minimum tax. Other benefits are an expanded credit for college costs, the credit for first-time homebuyers, the increase in the earned income tax credit, tax credits for installing more-efficient heating and air conditioning units, a tax exemption on some unemployment benefits and several tax breaks for businesses.

All of this will continue this year. I’ve benefited from several of the tax cuts myself. Stimulus opponents have, too.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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