The era of big government is back -- with a vengeance. President Obama returned to Denver to sign into law his American Reinvestment and Recovery Act -- the biggest spending bill in history, conservatively priced at $787 billion. In reality, this "stimulus" encourages nothing but government dependency and the belief that you really can get something for nothing. It should be known as the American Dependency and Redistribution Act because that's what it stimulates most.
But Americans said they wanted change; now they've got it. Or do they? President Bush's biggest failure was a lack of fiscal discipline -- the inability to say "no" to big spenders, especially those in his own party. But if Bush was undisciplined, Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are completely unhinged.
With a single piece of legislation, Democrats will spend more during Obama's first month than Bush spent on the entire Iraq war. They passed the 1,073-page bill before anyone could read it -- just days after unanimously adopting a policy to require that the public have 48 hours to review legislation before it comes to a vote.
Democrats' commitment to transparency in Congress follows the same pattern as Obama's commitment to keeping lobbyists out of his cabinet -- they're for it, except when they're against it.
Bush signed a feckless $150 billion stimulus package last spring and the $700 billion TARP bailout bill plan in September and was criticized for both, from the right and the left. How many Obama voters expected the new president to follow in that same furrow, using not a shovel but an excavator?
Democrats like to claim "economists agree" that a government stimulus plan is necessary. Yet economists also acknowledge that the economy would eventually recover even if Congress did nothing.
Since the choice is between a government-induced recovery and one that would ultimately sort itself out, we should expect that government action do no harm.
Unfortunately, this stimulus is a minefield of potential and inevitable harm--if not abject fiscal disaster.
Congressional Budget Office notes that any short-term stimulative effect will wane, followed by rising government debt that actually hinders economic growth.
Then there's the cost of exploding federal deficits.
The cost of the stimulus isn't merely the $787 billion in authorized spending. It's closer to $3.2 trillion because it expands or resurrects many social welfare programs. Nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars will be required just for interest payments on debt.
Had Bush uttered Obama's simplistic "stimulus is spending" rhetoric, he would have been pilloried by the press as a know-nothing. Obama acts as if all government spending is equally stimulative, so the lion's share of this boondoggle is little more than a resurrection of the welfare state.
Welfare reforms hammered out between President Clinton and a Republican Congress in 1996 are rolled back. New entitlements are promised. These expenditures are authorized only through 2011, but the underlying programs form the foundation for a cradle-to-grave nanny state. The entitlement lobby will fight, hammer and tong, any effort to end funding, accusing opponents of "hating children and seniors," just as they vilified Republicans during welfare reform.
As the Bush administration was largely defined by the war on terrorism, so Obama's will be defined by the biggest spending bill in history, a return to the welfare state, and exploding deficits -- ultimately leading to soaring inflation and rising interest rates.
Six years ago, Bush's decision to invade Iraq enjoyed overwhelming support, but when the war effort stumbled, the public and many politicians turned on a dime and left him holding the bag. Now, public support for the stimulus appears to be a mile wide but an inch deep. Americans hope it will work but don't expect their own finances to improve.
If the economy is still struggling in a year or two with today's problems compounded by inflation and rising interest rates, President Obama will learn that he alone owns his decisions and that the Oval Office can be a very lonely place.
Mark Hillman served as Colorado senate majority leader and state treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.