President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress have achieved their goal of creating stimulus legislation to bring aid to the declining economy.
While both parties agreed that some action was needed to stimulate the economy, the Democratic embrace of public spending did not receive Republican support. Both sides did agree on tax cuts, which put more money in private hands, where it theoretically could be entrusted without fear of misuse.
Remarkably, the stimulus legislation was assembled, debated and negotiated quickly and follows the Bush administration’s $700 billion financial support program, showing both administrations’ willingness to act quickly and boldly–to avoid mistakes made by Depression-era governments.
The public has largely followed party positions with Democrats accepting President Obama’s claims that spending, with accountability, is necessary and proper, and Republicans rejecting public spending beyond the financial bailout as unjustified, except that a significant vocal minority of the public from across the political landscape believe that the government’s management of public funds is corrupt, self-serving, and unnecessary.
The conflict highlights a problem President Obama gave voice to in the 2008 presidential campaign, before the economic crisis captured center state. Many Americans have lost faith in their government. They perceive government as the game board of the wealthy and powerful, where tax revenues and rights to government spending are divided up by lobbyists and their representatives in office.
The truth is likely more complicated. But Obama campaigned for more openness and accountability in the federal government, and crucially in the government’s use of public funding. Now is the time to make good on those promises.
Both the Treasury plan to support bank balance sheets and real estate values and the new stimulus legislation will only gain legitimacy if the public believes that they are worth the money. President Obama must put great effort into communicating and demonstrating that each dollar was spent wisely, obtained value, and served a public purpose that could not have been achieved otherwise.
This is no easy task. But with such doubt in the responsibility of government and the economic justice of our system, it is necessary. When the crisis ends and President Obama needs to move to the difficult tasks of cutting government spending, including entitlements, and working again towards a balanced budget, such calls for sacrifice by our leaders will require for their success the trust of the American people.