From Robert Samuelson in Newsweek:
Judged by his own standards, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program is deeply disappointing. For weeks, Obama has described the economy in grim terms. "This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession," he said at his Feb. 9 news conference. It's "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." Given these dire warnings, you'd expect the stimulus package to focus almost exclusively on reviving the economy. It doesn't, and for that, Obama bears much of the blame. . . .
If the economic outlook is as bleak as Obama says, there's no reason to dilute the upfront power of the stimulus. But that's what he's done.
His politics compromise the program's economics. Look at the numbers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about $200 billion will be spent in 2011 or later -- after it would do the most good. For starters, there's $8 billion for high-speed rail. "Everyone is saying this is (for) high-speed rail between Los Angeles and Las Vegas -- I don't know," says Ray Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association. Whatever's done, the design and construction will occupy many years. It's not a quick stimulus. . . .
Big projects take time. They're included in the stimulus because Obama and Democratic congressional leaders are using the legislation to advance many political priorities instead of just spurring the economy. . . .
Obama's political strategy stunts the impact from what it might have been. By using the stimulus for unrelated policy goals, spending will be delayed and diluted. There's another downside: "Temporary" spending increases for specific programs, as opposed to block grants, will be harder to undo, worsening the long-term budget outlook.
Politics cannot be removed from the political process. But here, partisan politics ran roughshod over pragmatic economic policy. Token concessions (including the AMT provision) to some Republicans weakened the package. Obama is gambling that his flawed stimulus will seem to work well enough that he'll receive credit for restarting the economy -- and not blamed for engineering a colossal waste.