February 7, 2011

‘Spin Meter’ Out of Control; AP Claims Almost All Unspent Stimulus Money Can’t Be Touched

According to Brett J. Blackledge at the Associated Press, when it comes to unspent stimulus money, cue the MC Hammer (“U Can’t Touch This“) and go away.

In a Friday “analysis” in the wire service’s “Spin Meter” category (HT Sweetness & Light), Blackledge, using words which clearly communicate which side he’s on, in essence tells those whose goal it is to reduce federal spending to a more sustainable level that they’re going to have to go somewhere else to find money that can’t be spent.

There are a couple of silver linings in Blackledge’s otherwise leaden analysis. First, he admits in his very first sentence that the stimulus program is “politically unpopular.” Second, he notes that the government wasn’t able to spend the money as quickly as promised in the heady days of February 2009, when passage of the stimulus bill that no one had time to read was supposedly the only thing preventing economic Armageddon:

SPIN METER: Not much savings from stimulus money

Congressional Republicans say they want to cut federal spending by raiding $45 billion from President Barack Obama’s politically unpopular economic stimulus program. But they won’t be able to get their hands on most of that money.

At most, only about $7 billion of the $814 billion in economic recovery money awarded under the 2009 federal law hasn’t already been spoken for, according to the latest White House estimates. And Republican leaders now acknowledge they would be lucky to identify as much as $5 billion in stimulus-related spending cuts as part of a plan to save taxpayers $2.5 trillion over 10 years.

Where did the money go?

It’s not that all the stimulus money has been spent; it has been committed for specific projects and programs. In the confusing money flow from Washington to the rest of the country, there’s still about $168 billion in stimulus money that has not actually been paid out, according to the administration. But it says nearly all of that money already is tied up in contracts with companies, obligations with states and local governments, promised taxpayer relief and commitments to government programs.

For states, much of that money for Medicaid and education has been worked into budgets, so if Congress took it back it could leave shortfalls, said Raymond Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association. “That would be a serious problem, I think, because they’re depending on that money.”

The unspent money remains in the federal pipeline despite Obama’s promise that recovery spending would occur swiftly to stimulate the nation’s economy after Congress approved the program nearly two years ago.

Even the $7 billion the White House says is not yet obligated can’t readily be yanked back by Republicans as savings because, administration officials said, planning is well under way for the projects expected to benefit.

Gosh, you would think that the federal government has never altered the terms of a contract or failed to send money to people who were counting on it. I suspect that some of these contracts (perhaps most?) have “out” clauses saying that if Congress doesn’t provide the funding for the purchases involved, the government won’t be able to continue the contract (if they don’t, they probably should). S&L makes a related point:

Funny, but we never hear about such concerns when the Department of Defense is having its budget cut. Don’t they have contracts and obligations? Don’t they have commitments?

Of course they do. But “somehow” military programs in progress do get eliminated from time to time.

Following Blackledge’s illogic, how can that be?

Let’s also go after the AP spinner’s scare words:

  • Hey Brett, you want to talk about “raided”? How about Social Security, to the tune of over $2 trillion over a period of decades?
  • GOP and other legislators attempting to do something about the deficit aren’t “going to get their hands on” anything. Any spending reductions will only reduce projected deficits. But it doesn’t have the same impact if you say reducing spending “will slow down Ben Bernanke’s printing presses a little bit,” does it?
  • “Yanked back” is a ridiculous term as well, because the money hasn’t been spent, and Blackledge even acknowledges that all anyone has done in relation to the $7 billion is to “plan” for it. Big whoop.

But somehow, “U Can’t Touch” anything resembling a significant chunk of the $168 billion unspent stimulus money.

Blackledge’s weigh-in at the AP’s “Spin Meter” causes it to more closely resemble an industrial scale whose needle is in the red — because it’s overloaded with horse manure.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


1 Comment

  1. [...] they slip up occasionally. Late last week (covered yesterday at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), in an item primarily about how Congress really, really can’t stop planned stimulus spending [...]

    Pingback by BizzyBlog — February 8, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

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