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Harry Moroz

Tired Rhetoric Watch: The Hands of Washington Politicians

In reverting to the classic conservative argument that mocks high-speed rail as a magic trick and uses disaster protection as a punch line, Governor Bobby Jindal's non-SOTU response informed us that:

[T]he way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in [the] hands of Washington politicians.

I see what Governor Jindal is getting at: Money is power. $787 billion is a lot of money. Ergo, the feds have a lot of power. Not exactly breaking news.

But Jindal bypassed what has in the last week become a primary component of President Obama's argument to the American people in favor of the stimulus package: the nation's governors and mayors are the ones responsible not only for ensuring that the stimulus funds are spent effectively and efficiently, but for determining how they are spent. The feds, in fact, gave up a fair amount of their power: in directing to state and local governments $79.2 billion for education ($54 billion for the state fiscal stabilization fund, $13 billion in Title I funds, and $12.2 billion for special education); in directing them $27.5 billion for highway projects, $8.4 billion for transit projects, and $8 billion for high speed rail; in providing block grants to state and local governments to increase energy efficiency. These represent broad categories of spending for states and cities to work within, not targeted appropriations.

Last Friday, in front of a group of the nation's mayors, Obama talked about the responsibility the stimulus package places on local officials and scolded them that if a local government "proposes a project that will waste that [stimulus] money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it, and put a stop to it." And again in his non-SOTU address, the President emphasized:

I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend.

The tension that Jindal is trying to manufacture - between bureaucrats in D.C. and the regular folks out in America - is based on a fiction: money and power have devolved to state and local officials who are now largely responsible for implementing an effective stimulus. In fact, Obama's stimulus argument currently revolves entirely around the effectiveness of its implementation at the state and local level, a point which Jindal's power struggle argument simply ignores.

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Posted at 9:44 AM, Feb 27, 2009 in Economy | State of the Union
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