Three rules for Obama's stimulus plan
TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Scott Jagow: Barack Obama says he wants to stimulate the economy with government spending -- a huge public works program. It might be necessary. But as always with government projects like this, you have to be careful of special interests. Commentator Robert Reich has a few suggestions.
Robert Reich: No economy can function without enough pull from the demand side. But consumers have stopped buying, businesses won't invest in plant and equipment without buyers at the other end, and exports are dead in the water because the world is in recession.
That leaves government as buyer of last resort -- which is why Congress and the upcoming Obama administration are planning a large stimulus package, to be signed almost as soon as the new president is sworn in, a little less than six weeks from now.
Getting it enacted won't be difficult. Even deficit hawks know that when millions of people are unemployed, offices vacant, and factories shuttered, deficit spending that gets the economy growing again will make future deficits smaller.
The real political challenge will be to avoid pork-barrel projects and corporate welfare. Yet Washington lobbyists and trade associations are already salivating. What can be done to keep them at bay? Follow three simple rules.
First, the stimulus package should be transparent -- unlike the opaque Treasury bailout of Wall Street. Spending priorities should be posted on the Internet, along with reasons why they are priorities. All contracts should be subject to competitive bidding, with the final winning and losing bids also clearly posted.
Second, and also by contrast to the Wall Street bailout, lobbyists should be barred from receiving any benefits at all from the stimulus package. The rule should be that no stimulus money may go to any company that has paid a lobbyist to seek any portion of the stimulus package on its behalf.
Finally, the stimulus package may not contain earmarks or special allocations of money to any state or locale. The only valid reason for state or local governments getting stimulus funds should be to remedy their budget shortfalls and thereby restore public services. This means no amendments to the stimulus bill. Make it a straight up or down vote.
These three rules won't guarantee the stimulus package is free from pork and corporate welfare. But they'll vastly improve the odds.
Jagow: Robert Reich teaches at the University of California Berkeley. His latest book is called "Supercapitalism."