Conservative coalition seeking to defund unspent stimulus dollars

John Rossomando Contributor
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A coalition of conservative groups hopes to remind Americans of the lackluster results of President Barack Obama’s $814 billion stimulus as the second anniversary of its passage approaches next week.

The coalition, led by Let Freedom Ring, plans to debut a website, www.DefundTheStimulus.com, on Thursday in order to increase pressure on Capitol Hill to refund the remaining amount of the stimulus to the national treasury.

Other coalition members include the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), Americans for Tax Reform, the 60 Plus Association, the National Taxpayers Union, FreedomWorks, Citizens Against Government Waste and Restore the Dream among others.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Daily Caller the administration and congressional Democrats promised the nation the stimulus would keep unemployment from surging past 8 percent, but that promise failed to materialize.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s unemployment rate hovered just under 8 percent when Congress passed the stimulus on Feb. 17, 2009, but those numbers shot up to an average of around 9.5 percent a few months after its passage where the rate has hovered ever since.

Democrats, however, cite numbers from the Congressional Budget Office suggesting the unemployment rate could have been significantly higher had the stimulus not passed. “Economists of all persuasions generally agree that without the Recovery Act, the Great Recession would have become a much worse Great Depression,” said Dan Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

“While the economy is reeling and real Americans are suffering, President Obama has been crowing about the ‘success’ of the stimulus program,” Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, said in a statement. “The professorial president needs to confront the reality that all Americans are facing now: We are in a deep economic crisis that will not be repaired by more federal government programs.

“With a $14 trillion debt, we simply cannot afford to waste one more dime on the failed stimulus.  Unemployment has soared — hovering at or above 9 percent for 21 straight months, and there are 2.29 million more unemployed Americans.”

Jim Martin, chairman of the 60 Plus Association, said the unspent stimulus money concerns the seniors his group represents because they live with fixed incomes and have to make financial sacrifices the federal government seems unwilling to make.

“Every dollar they spend means the more they have keep borrowing from the Chinese,” Martin said. “Seniors living on fixed incomes and most seniors living on a Social Security check are tired of the overspending.”

Coalition members say Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy plans to introduce a bill in the coming week that will block the expenditure of the remaining unspent stimulus dollars.

Fighting against the stimulus was a key reason the House freshman ran against and defeated former House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey.

“I simply disagree with the governing philosophy that the stimulus represents: that we can grow our economy by growing the size of government,” Duffy said in an e-mailed statement to TheDC. “Rescinding the remaining stimulus funds and sending it back to the treasury for deficit reduction would send an important message to the private sector that there has been a fundamental shift in the people’s House from pushing big government policies to pro-growth policies that will empower the private sector to innovate and invest.”

But just how much money has yet to be allocated is a matter of ongoing debate.

The coalition estimates the remaining amount in the 10s of billions of dollars, and the RSC suggests the number could be as much as $45 billion. However, the administration suggests the amount of unallocated stimulus dollars is less than $10 billion.

“These remaining dollars include funding for major high-speed rail, clean energy and other infrastructure projects that in many cases have already been awarded and just haven’t been formally put under contract,” said Liz Oxhorn, the White House’s spokeswoman for the economic recovery program, told The Associated Press. “Rescinding these funds could halt job-creating projects years in the making where preliminary work in some cases is already under way.”

Coalition members dispute the White House’s contention that all of the stimulus dollars are irreversibly committed, and according to Alex Cortes, chairman of the Restore the Dream Foundation, Duffy’s legislation will grab up a wide swath of unspent stimulus funds.

Cortes maintains the remaining stimulus funds set aside for high-speed rail and for green jobs are of questionable value to the nation’s economy because they have dubious cost benefits, and the fact the exact amount of unspent stimulus dollars is being debated undermines Obama’s claims of being transparent.

“The reason that the White House is trying to minimize the estimate of ‘unspent’ dollars is that they don’t want any of the dollars to remain unspent.  They want to pretend that everything is irreversibly committed,” Hanna said. “Well, everything is not committed. Even the White House now admits that.  So let’s ask them what elements of the stimulus make up their $7 billion estimate.  We want to be sure not miss any of them!”

The coalition plans to formally unveil  the details of Duffy’s proposal on Feb. 14 at a Capitol Hill press conference.