Won’t get fooled again

Andy Matthews

There's no shortage of reasons for limited-government adherents to detest the massive federal stimulus package that was enacted in February. But there might be a silver lining to the stimulus after all: It just may be the magic bullet that kills both cap-and-trade and socialized health care.

It has come as no surprise to those who understand how economies and markets function that the stimulus has failed to produce any sort of discernable improvement to our economic fortunes. The way to truly stimulate the economy is to remove governmental barriers to private-sector-driven economic growth, something the stimulus does not do and was never intended to do — its architects' chief goals being to pay back political favors and maximize governmental control over the American economy.

Still, President Obama and his Congressional allies sold it to the public as a miraculous prescription for our economic illness, and the majority of Americans believed this was what they were getting. They're now learning, via skyrocketing deficits and unemployment rates, that they were duped. And they're starting to get ticked off about it.

This growing public unrest over the stimulus package's inability to stimulate has come hand in hand with a decline in confidence in President Obama's ability to manage the economy, if not his overall popularity. He remains well-liked personally, but voters are growing increasingly skeptical of his policy prowess.

This skepticism comes at an inopportune time for the President, given the next two big items on his agenda. Both his cap-and-trade (or, more accurately, cap-and-tax) scheme and his government takeover of health care are now likely to be much harder sells to a public that is coming to view his first major economic policy initiative as an utter failure.

The threat to the President is the fact that his opponents are now well positioned to argue, not just accurately but also convincingly, that both of these proposals are likely to further exacerbate the economic problems that we're already experiencing and that seem to be compounding daily.

This argument would have been accurate even without the stimulus, of course. Implementing cap-and-trade and/or government-run health care would be a bad idea under any circumstances, but doing so in a tumultuous economic climate would be tantamount to pouring gasoline on an already burning house.

The accuracy of this argument, however, isn't enough. The public at large still has to buy it. And pre-stimulus, the President was likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. Today, however, his diminished credibility on issues related to the economy (which, after all, include both cap-and-trade and health care) means he's more likely to get the cold shoulder from a far less trusting populace.

Now, when fiscal conservatives warn that cap-and-trade would result in an increased tax burden on ordinary citizens, they'll find a more sympathetic audience. When they predict that the President's health care plan would amount to just another inefficient, unaffordable federal entitlement program, they'll be taken very seriously. That's their reward for having been proven right about the stimulus.

And as public opinion shifts against these initiatives, Democratic lawmakers from competitive districts, who already have the stimulus wrapped around their necks, will be less than eager to add cap-and-trade and socialized health care on top of it. Visions of 1994 dancing in their heads may prove to be highly persuasive when these proposals come up for a vote.

On paper, the Left still has the upper hand on these issues. And they may still win. But cap-and-trade and socialized health care are hardly the foregone conclusions they once seemed.

Andy Matthews is vice president for communications at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.