The nearly $820 billion economic stimulus package promptly passed by the House of Representatives on Jan. 28 was seen by Democrats as a week-one victory for newly elected President Obama. Yet with no GOP votes and the document's availability for public viewing, adulation for the plan is beginning to slip and citizens hungry for a recession reversal are wondering if the plan will live up to its hype.
Democrats and Republicans generally have antithetical viewpoints on where money should go and how and by whom it should be spent. During the House debate, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi argued that spending in various programs is necessary "not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth . . . we are renewing America's investments in basic research and development."
But the Republicans like minority leader Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida view money spent on programs as no benefit to bolstering employment. They argue that jobs come in the form of infrastructure, which they point out accounts for less than 10% of the bill, and small business growth through generous tax cuts.
"This plan spends lots of money but very little to incentivize the economy . . . and small businesses, which are the job creators in our country," Diaz-Balart argued in his minute and a half allotment of floor time during the House debates. "This bill is little money and little accountability."
The National Council for La Raza (NCLR), the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., remains optimistic overall about the bill's outcome, but admits that it would like to see more money focused on providing jobs for the locally unemployed. NCLR recently sent members to urge the Senate to provide additional support for the 10 million workers who have limited-English speaking abilities.
"Hopefully [the stimulus package] will go a long way for closing the gaps," said Catherine Singley, a political analyst for NCLR. "A lot of the job training programs that have had success serves workers from all ethnicities and our future prosperity is going to depend on them."
Leslie Paige, Media Director for the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), is not convinced that the bill will energize the economy and describes her feelings towards it as "deeply skeptical."
"Obama said its going to create jobs and yet only 7% goes to infrastructure for this year," Paige construed. "The rest of it's going into more government programs; there are fine noble causes," she noted, specifically mentioning a $400 million HIV awareness campaign and $75 million for anti-smoking ads--"but why is this in a stimulus package? They just loaded it up with pork," she concluded.
The same day the stimulus package was passed, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was busy cutting funding in his office to reduce daily spending in hopes of better balancing his fiscal budget. Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesperson for Governor Richardson, said that the state has lost significant income due to sharp declines in oil and gas revenues; therefore, it is depending on the stimulus package to boost jobs in renewable energies and, at the same time, save programs such as Medicare, which are deeply in need of financing.
"We're probably the leading state in terms of developing renewable energy and renewable energy jobs. Any kind of federal funding to support that would push us forward," said Gallegos. "We depend on federal money to fund these programs, and a lot of states are hurting with healthcare and Medicaid. Largely I think it's a good thing [for funding] to go toward a public project."
But party lines still divide the opinion on job creation. Both Paige and Singley contest that in order to stimulate economic growth, help must be given to "the little guy," first in the form of a generous tax refund and second by long-term investments in projects that will hire from the pool of locally unemployed citizens.
"You'll ask the Democrats where these jobs will come from and they'll point to massive infrastructure projects. There is the promise of job creation, [but] is it going to reach our communities?" Singley asked. "The trickle-down effects are unpredictable."
A motto of the Obama office has been "accountability," and to prove his walk is as big as his talk, the administration has created recovery.gov, a Web site promising public coverage of every dime spent by the stimulus plan.
Although Paige has not yet examined the Web site, which will not be active until the plan is signed, she is uneasy about how effective this national budget calculator will be.
"You will lose track of it completely once [money] is given to the states. There are fifty states out there and not all of them are going to make it easy."
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