Republicans have tried to frame Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as an attempt to get Barack Obama a third term in office. With the current president’s favorability ratings on the rise, one hears a bit less about that than a few months ago. Even without the explicit argument, the election does come down to a choice between continuity, represented by the former Secretary of State, and a massive change in direction with Donald Trump.
On economics, however, Hillary Clinton doesn’t look like a third Obama term. According to Yahoo News economic analyst Rick Newman, she looks more like his first term. Her jobs plan resembles nothing more than the ill-fated stimulus plan of 2009, which did little to stimulate job creation and made the term “shovel-ready jobs” a national joke.
At least Obama and Congress had an excuse in 2009. The nation had just undergone a massive shock to its financial systems, and lenders had locked up credit so tightly that commerce had difficulty moving. The TARP bailout addressed some of those issues, but as the new President took office, the American economy was busy shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, and the first priority was to stave off panic and a depression.
Under those circumstances, members of Congress from both parties seemed eager to put together a government stimulus that would jump-start job creation. Almost immediately, though, Democrats locked Republicans out from drafting the plan, setting the tone for bitter partisanship in the first few days of the new administration. The new president notoriously explained to complaining Republicans by saying, “I won,” on his third day in office.
The resulting package borrowed $800 billion to offer a small amount of promising tax incentives, but mainly relied on pork-barrel projects near and dear to Democrats’ hearts. Obama promised a boom in infrastructure improvements, but most of the so-called “shovel-ready jobs” came from maintenance work that the bill accelerated. Almost none of them produced anything but temporary jobs. The remainder of the stimulus package focused on spurring the development of green-energy technology, money which largely went to waste on busted flushes like Solyndra and A123.
The result? Hundreds of billions in debt, followed by the weakest post-recession recovery since World War II. Five years later, McClatchy and ProPublica teamed up for an investigation of the stimulus bill and discovered extensive fraud that cost taxpayers billions – and that government agencies collaborated in the fraud rather than stopping it.
The stimulus program “was riddled with a massive labor scheme that harmed workers and cheated unsuspecting American taxpayers,” they reported in September 2014. Contractors “avoided state and federal taxes and undercut law-abiding competitors,” while “they exploited workers desperate for jobs, depriving them of unemployment benefits and often workers’ compensation insurance.” By the time the failures and frauds were uncovered, though, it was far too late to salvage any of the borrowed cash that fueled the stimulus program.
Two years after that discovery, however, Clinton wants to offer a rerun. The very first bullet point on her campaign-website jobs plan promises to “Launch our country’s boldest investments in infrastructure since the construction of our interstate highway system in the 1950s.” That’s exactly what Obama promised, and failed to deliver.
Clinton wants to spend $300 billion over five years on transportation infrastructure alone, Newman notes. That was also the target of Obama’s “shovel-ready” stimulus spending, only twice as much as allocated in 2009. As Newman notes, even those projects that managed to get completed ended up being in rural areas, with little notice and little added value other than sooner-than-needed maintenance.
Given that the federal budget deficit ranges from a half-trillion to a trillion dollars each year, where will this $300 billion originate? Clinton plans to raise taxes on the rich, Newman says, “so in theory it wouldn’t add to the national debt.” Obama spent most of his eight years promising to do the same, somehow neglecting to try very hard when Democrats had complete control of Congress in his first two years. Both the spending and the source of the cash sound sadly familiar, like a failure one is doomed to never forget.
On that same note, Clinton’s plan also envisions green-energy investments, using almost the same slogans as the Obama administration in 2009. Her website promises to make America “the clean energy superpower of the world,” and the installation of a half-billion solar panels by 2021. Obama promised that too, but much of the money wound up going down the drain at Solyndra, Fisker, and SoloPower. Other funds ended up in the hands of Obama’s bundlers, such as Daniel Cruise of Alcoa, a company that doesn’t exactly need taxpayer subsidies to thrive.
In other words, Hillary Clinton proposes the very same policies that did not produce a dynamic economic expansion expected after the Great Recession, that created opportunities for billions of dollars in fraud and exploitation of workers, and that operated as a crony-capitalist ATM at the expense of frustrated taxpayers. It’s not just a rehash of failed proposals; it’s a doubling down on corruption and the same central planning that Obama promised would deliver to working-class Americans seven years ago.
Perhaps Democrats just think voters haven’t paid attention. We’ll see soon enough in November if their taste for nostalgia and reruns is stronger than their expressed desire for change.