Obama's Beast of Burden

When the $787 billion stimulus bill passed last year, President Obama promised that the package would save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010. Upon signing the legislation, he likely thought he was unleashing just the kind of beast that would sink its teeth into a sluggish economy and get things moving again.

The stimulus has indeed become a beast, just not the one Obama had in mind. Since early 2009, the country has endured a net job loss of nearly 2.5 million.

With more than half of 2010 over, Americans are left to wonder: Where are the jobs? Apparently at least some of them have been created in an industry that’s not hurting at all: the lobbying industry.

Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received nearly $500 million for “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” (CPPW) and “Prevention and Wellness Initiative” grants.

Although $500 million may look like chicken feed compared to the mammoth price tag of the stimulus, the CPPW objectives are disconcerting in a way entirely different from the costs they incur.

At first glance, CPPW programs may appear harmless enough; the grants seek to prevent obesity and reduce tobacco use. However like most federal monies, strings are attached.

CPPW grants differ from others in what they seek to accomplish: creation or alterations of laws designed to increase taxes and place burdensome restrictions on businesses and consumers.

It takes a lot to compel lawmakers to implement new laws and this is where the lobbying issue comes to play. The language in the grant’s “Funding Opportunity Announcement” (FOA) instructs grantees to hire consultants who would for all intents and purposes function as lobbyists.

No, federal grants aren’t supposed to be spent on lobbying. But the FOAs dictate that “contractors” and “consultants” should have the “expertise to ensure project success and have demonstrated skills and experience in … policy and environmental interventions, and the policies related to tobacco control.”

As if it’s not bad enough that your hard-earned money fuels an industry that’s not hurting for work, what the de-facto lobbyists are paid to do adds insult to injury: promote a nanny state agenda. 

CPPW’s goals nearly state outright that taxes should be collected on industries the government finds unhealthy. Some of the “interventions” these grants seek are to increase taxes on tobacco products, sugar-sweetened beverages, and supposedly “unhealthy” foods; limit consumer choice on fast food restaurants; and burden retailers by requiring additional signage, as well as mandating percentages of floor space that must contain “healthy” food and beverage choices. 

It’s startling to look at the way these policies could manipulate decisions made every day. For example, a local government could control the number of fast-food restaurants within an area and require that the restaurants be a minimum distance from a school.

However, the “government knows what’s best for you” mentality doesn’t stop here. Imagine the government dictating where shopkeepers must place their products and what dimensions particular displays must be.

These grants suggest an innate mistrust of the citizens’ ability to make their own food choices. Even the government understands that the easiest way to ensure that someone makes the “right” choice is by removing or reducing all other options—exactly what the CPPW grants intend to accomplish.

Using stimulus dollars to fund an industry that the economic downturn hasn’t affected only helps to get the economy further off track. Using taxpayer dollars to limit consumer choice, raise taxes, and place burdens on struggling businesses also doesn’t help jump-start the economy. But it’s a toss-up in deciding which is worse.

The stimulus is a beast alright, but it’s not the type that comes in to attack the recession and kick the economy into shape.  Rather, it’s a beast of burden—one that delivers heavy loads of federal dollars to people who in turn work to pile more onto the weary, sagging backs of the taxpayers who funded the whole exercise in the first place.

Knowing these facts, the folks who pay government’s bills won’t take kindly to getting kicked in the teeth by this mule any longer. Nor will they take kindly to politicians who let it loose.