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Tilting at Windmills

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July 9, 2009

POLITICS AND STIMULUS SPENDING DON'T MIX.... Once in a while, it pays to read the whole article, not just the headline and first few paragraphs.

USA Today did an analysis of the stimulus funds spent so far and found that counties that supported President Obama in the election are getting far more money, per person, than counties that backed John McCain. Some conservatives are, of course, outraged, alleging that the administration has launched an intentional political scheme to reward "blue" areas with federal funds.

At Townhall, Carol Platt Liebau argued that USA Today's findings are evidence of "the problem with government control," adding, "One of the problems with big government is that politics creeps into everything."

Except, that's not what the article actually says. Yes, the 872 counties that supported Obama have received, on average, about $69 per person, while the 2,234 that supported McCain received about $34. But the details matter.

Much of [the funding] has followed a well-worn path to places that regularly collect a bigger share of federal grants and contracts, guided by formulas that have been in place for decades and leave little room for manipulation. [...]

Investigators who track the stimulus are skeptical that political considerations could be at work. The imbalance is so pronounced -- and the aid so far from complete -- that it would be almost inconceivable for it to be the result of political tinkering, says Adam Hughes, the director of federal fiscal policy for the non-profit OMB Watch. "Even if they wanted to, I don't think the administration has enough people in place yet to actually do that," he says.

This isn't even new or unique to the stimulus. From 2005 through 2007, the article noted, counties that supported Obama "collected about 50% more government aid than those that supported McCain."

I'll leave it to conservative bloggers to explain how Obama's team managed to pull this trick off when the federal government was run by a Republican Congress and a Republican White House.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

steve, just because it's just like it's always been doesn't mean that obama isn't turning this country socialist -- just like germany before wwii... or sumptin' i dont know -- gee, why dont we ask hannity?

Posted by: neill on July 9, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'll leave it to conservative bloggers to explain how Obama's team managed to pull this trick off when the federal government was run by a Republican Congress and a Republican White House.

Remember, they call him "The One."

Posted by: TonyB on July 9, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

The counties that supported Obama have a lot more people than the counties that supported McCain. The stimulus is supposed to stimulate people, not counties, in any case.

Posted by: Xenos on July 9, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

For the party that is allegedly so "tough" and stoic and decries progressives as "empathetic" and emotional wimps, conservatives seem to do almost all of their "thinking" through nothing more than visceral emotional reactions. If one actually bothers with reason for more than, oh, a millisecond, the results of the study should be neither surprising nor controversial.

Infrastructure projects are good stimulus projects. . . where are the most and biggest roads? Population centers - and urban areas tend to be blue. Ports, piers, even the most travelled bridges? Population centers. More schools? Population centers. Manufacturing? Population centers?

The "Red" areas are largely rural. The density of infrastructure is, like the population density, much lower. There is less infrastructure-based economic activity, because much of the economy in rural areas is farming/land based. That is, there is nothing to spend stimulus money on. Duh.

Posted by: zeitgeist on July 9, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

You don't expect right wingers to read past the headlines do you?

Posted by: ModDem on July 9, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

At the same time, The New York Times is reporting that cities are being shortchanged on transportation stimulus, while rural areas are getting more than their fair share. (The Times is comparing share of transportation stimulus to share of GDP generated in order to determine what constitutes being shortchanged.)

Um, did cities turn Republican in the last election without my noticing?

I wonder if there are a lot of ways to crunch these numbers, including several reasonable ways that nevertheless point to very different conclusions that would infuriate very different ideological groups.

Posted by: Steve M. on July 9, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

When funding doesn't follow these systems, and instead is built on cronyism and political considerations, we get the true absurdities.

For example, the post-9/11 anti-terror funding that saw places that were actually attacked get the shaft in favor of midsized cities in the South and Midwest, because the DHS decided that NYC doesn't have national icons that terrorists would attempt to target.

The reason Republicans get into hissy fits over this stuff, or the car dealer thing, is because this is how they actually govern. We saw it for 8 years.

Posted by: Joshua on July 9, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Or it could be that 'blue' areas being more 'pro-government' tend to be better at working the system to get their money quicker and put in play faster than so called 'red' areas where government is hated and elected officials don't care much about making it work (see Bush and Palin).

Posted by: thorin-1 on July 9, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a little confused (and I'm not trying to be snarky here). I hear, with some regularity, that it's the red states that get the lion's share of Government aid, and aren't they hypocrites for complaining about socialism when they're sucking at the government tit (On the face of it, a pretty valid accusation).

Is that not really the case, or is it just the blue counties in red states are the actual recipients of most of the aid (in which case the charge of hypocrisy seems to hold a lot less water)?

Posted by: TW Andrews on July 9, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, the Rethugs don't want gov'mint money. They even tried not to accept it. So, if in fact they got less for some reason...Mission accomplished!

Posted by: Frak on July 9, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

I guess I am just reiterating what was said above, to wit:

* Obama supporting counties are more populous, thus will get more money provided the criteria is based on population.

* To the extent some funding is based on just repairing roads, more rural counties do better because the cost of building/repairing a road is probably somewhat comparable give or take regional labor costs but the roads in rural areas service fewer drivers, so the rural areas benefit more.

* During the Bush administration it was well documented by the MSM that Republican counties got the lion's share of federal dollars/projects over Democratic counties and has been that way for decades. Several federal officials either resigned or were investigated or still are being investigated for making support for Bush a criteria for federal dollars.

So bring out the fainting couch for the WATB's. Favoritism exists and always will. Republicans are much better at it than Dems but since they live by IOKIYAR they can't stand it when the tables are turned on them. Boo Effing Hoo. Maybe if they "spread the wealth" more (Gasp!) they might get more votes. Trickle down economics only trickles down to the yacht builders.

Posted by: coltergeist on July 9, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

TW Andrews - I know when there is a story like this is seems inconsistent with the broader theme that Red States are the biggest dependents on government, but that latter assertion is indeed true.

The reasons are pretty simple: (1) farm subsidies are a large portion of federal government transfers, and many red states are farming states; (2) more and larger military bases tend to be in the south (and one can argue the cause and effect of military presence versus redness of the state) which again is a large inflow of federal dollars to the state; (3) because red states on balance tend to be lower income states overall (the poorest in NYC may be poorer than those in Alabama, but the richest in NYC are both more plentiful and richer than those in Alabama) they pay less on a statewide basis in taxes, and the "government dependency" stats are usually net reciept figures.

Posted by: zeitgeist on July 9, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

a worthwhile clip;


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcQJSFJKvy0&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fzerohedge.blogspot.com%2F2009%2F07%2Fformer-us-assistant-secretary-of.html&feature=player_embedded

Posted by: grinning cat on July 9, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

From townhall.com, the lie went straight to CNN's 'AM Fix' this morning - so predictable...

Posted by: Ohioan on July 9, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Also, this is stimulus spending and anti-recession spending.

Where are the big industries? Blue counties.
Where are the big infrastructure? Blue counties.
Where are the banks? Blue counties.

It's kinda like a big 'duh'. Blue counties tend to be dense, urbanized, because, well, most of the country lives in urban or suburban areas, and because of that, have infrastructure that rural areas would not. They're Blue because Blue people tend toward moving to urban areas to self-select, following the monies spent.

Posted by: Crissa on July 9, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

I hate these kinds of written-for-outrage, innumerate news articles. The first thing to check is the correlation with population. It's easy, it's fast, and they didn't do it. I could walk a ten-year-old through it in Excel in a few minutes.

Goddamn this lazy ignorance. I don't write an email to my boss without being sure of my facts, but these guys write an article that goes to the entire world without making the simplest check on the data, one that could lead to a more interesting and meaningful conclusion (even that the White House was targeting counties).

The problem is that this is mock science. They're essentially stating a testable thesis (Obama's guys write checks for revenge), supporting it with some data, but then reaching for the meaningless J-school "objectivity" points by putting in a criticism of their thesis ("investigators...are skeptical"). Of course, for those people inclined to believe Obama is evil and all-powerful, that criticism is easily swatted aside and the thesis is "proven" for them. And then we're off to memeorandum for the ragegasm.

How does this type of article help anything?

Posted by: Travis on July 9, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

please read what steve wrote. please read what usa today wrote:

"Yes, the 872 counties that supported Obama have received, on average, about $69 per person, while the 2,234 that supported McCain received about $34."

per person, folks. population differences between counties don't matter. a county with 1 million people and a county with 25,000 people would receive would be the same per person if the money was distributed strictly according to population.

as the story explains all the way down in the second paragraph, it was distributed "to places that regularly collect a bigger share of federal grants and contracts, guided by formulas that have been in place for decades and leave little room for manipulation. [...] "

"Investigators who track the stimulus are skeptical that political considerations could be at work. The imbalance is so pronounced -- and the aid so far from complete -- that it would be almost inconceivable for it to be the result of political tinkering, says Adam Hughes, the director of federal fiscal policy for the non-profit OMB Watch. "Even if they wanted to, I don't think the administration has enough people in place yet to actually do that," he says."

This was not a Republican attack piece and goddamn this lazy ignorance of those who can't or won't click the link and read the story. There is no outrage there except the faux outrage of those who twist it or who interpret it without reading it.

How does this type of article help anything? By doing exactly what the press is supposed to do: keep an honest eye on the administration no matter whether it's bush in white house or obama. BTW i voted for obama. proudly.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on July 9, 2009 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

hey, zeitgeist (@11:31) and others,

Don't y'all go portraying us rurals as turnip growers and nothing else. We have the most prisons, too, and if that ain't infrawhatever, I don't know what is.

Posted by: exlibra on July 9, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

There is likely a very close correlation between support for Obama and economic need and where investment has lagged (urban). If that's the case then this analysis says that the stimulus is working the way it should, not sending money to wealthy places like Scottsdale or Aspen.

Posted by: stevenz on July 9, 2009 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Here in my supposedly red IL county that did vote for homeboy Obama but not our Dem house candidate we've already had a major 5 lane commercial hwy repaved with stimulus money.

Posted by: markg8 on July 9, 2009 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone with a modicum of math skills can see the problem that USA Today illustrates. Even if spending to blue areas was 50% greater that spending to red areas in 2005-2007, the stimulus money is 100% greater to blue over red.

100% > 50%

Posted by: Al Jr. on July 9, 2009 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

I remember a study a few years back that found that before the Bush-Rove era, when Democrats were in charge, that blue counties and red counties had more or less parity in federal spending. Then under Bushco, federal spending in red counties went up by something like 25%. So once again the Republicans are shrieking bloody murder over the very thing that they do whenever they get a chance.

Me, I'm fed up with conservatives and Republicans. I say, if we can get away with it, bravo! Starve the red counties! Let their God feed them, find them jobs, find them health insurance.


Posted by: PTate in MN on July 9, 2009 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

Stop and think for a minute. The government is getting way to far into healthcare, way to far into private industry, way to far into banking. Typically what governments that want to control there people do is to make them dependent in critical areas of their lives to be able to control their behavior. This is a very real danger in the United States under Obama.

For instance, when I got student loans I went to a bank. I got the money and I paid it back. To get federal loans at the time, all that was necessary was to sign up for Selective Service. I can see a future, under this president, in which government controls all student loans. The quid pro quo to receive the money may be that everyone must serve in mandatory national service in the Obama Corps program, complete with socialist indoctrination designed by that well know reformer of education, Bill Ayers.

People should be alarmed by the fact that this government will intrude into all aspects of our lives, if we let them. I think some, however, judging from recent Rasmussen polls are beginning to wake up.

Posted by: Steve on July 10, 2009 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are rich and live in areas of less need. Ergo: Get less moolah. And rightly so. Why isn't this obvious. It's the same nonsense RE: Obama's "favorite car dealers that didn't get closed." Most of the closed dealers were R's --- but, gasp, most of the ones that remained open were too. Car dealers are overwhelmingly Republican. Also tend to be on the rich-side.

The rich will end up w/the $$ anyway as the bluer/poorer areas trade the Gov't largess for trinkets and odd-and-ends like FOOD. Can you imagine -- FOOD, a right!! Some bitch on the TEEVEE, trying for the 2009 Ann Coulter Award for Hateful Stupidity, seemed incredulous that FOOD -- no biggy, just a minor thing like sustenance -- might be considered a RIGHT if we have Universal Healthcare.

Oh, the perilous Slippery Slope. (Maybe that's why we need Sarah -- being from the Land of Endless Ice (for now) should prepare her well for all the Slippery Slopes and how we shouldn't go near them or we piss of Jesus by taking care of the poor and needy.) Apparently she (the bitch "debating" Jane Hamsher not Sarah) is unaware of our nationwide food stamp programs -- state administered -- but all the states have it. We settled that argument long ago. Granted, there is still hunger -- the system has cracks, all systems do.

We should have settled the argument vis a vis Univ. Health (WITH a single payor system) long ago. But we are, and have been, ruled by idiots. If whatever crap comes out of Congress RE: healthcare puts the insurance industry out of business (and it won't since they can continue as intermediaries just as they do now with Medicare) I'd consider it a feature not a bug.

Posted by: mb on July 10, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I would also like to point out that the cracks in our systems (safety net-wise) are largely due to compromising with conservatives. Remember when the conservatives were all weepy about how welfare broke up families? Well, it did break up families because a prerequisite for welfare was no man in the home. The cons couldn't abide welfare for intact families. So poor families were "disincentivised" to have intact families. Which resulted in rivers of crocodile tears.

I hate conservatives.

Here endeth my rant.

Posted by: mb on July 10, 2009 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

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