A number of people have given kudos to Michael Grunwald's Time magazine piece, "How the Stimulus Is Changing America." But there's one piece of this that's worth taking note of:
[Joe] Biden himself always saw the Recovery Act as a test — not only of the new Administration but of federal spending itself. He knew high-profile screwups could be fatal, stoking antigovernment anger about bureaucrats and two-car funerals. So he spends hours checking in, buttering up and banging heads to keep the stimulus on track, harassing Cabinet secretaries, governors and mayors about unspent broadband funds, weatherization delays and fishy projects. He has blocked some 260 skate parks, picnic tables and highway beautifications that flunked his what-would-your-mom-think test. "Imagine they could have proved we wasted a billion dollars," Biden says. "Gone, man. Gone!"
So far, despite furor over cash it supposedly funneled to contraception (deleted from the bill) and phantom congressional districts (simply typos), the earmark-free Recovery Act has produced surprisingly few scandals. Prosecutors are investigating a few fraud allegations, and critics have found some goofy expenditures, like $51,500 for water-safety-mascot costumes or a $50,000 arts grant to a kinky-film house. But those are minor warts, given that unprecedented scrutiny. Biden knows it's early — "I ain't saying mission accomplished!" — but he calls waste and fraud "the dogs that haven't barked."
As they say, successful airplane landings don't make the news. But given the scope of the stimulus, this is a pretty remarkable bureaucratic achievement. According to Recovery.gov, the stimulus included $275 billion of contracts, grants, and loans (the rest was tax cuts and entitlements). If you can pass out over a quarter of a trillion dollars without any major examples of what we in Washington call "Waste, Fraud, and Abuse," you've really done something.
Of course, it may just be that we haven't yet located all the WF&A, since our national investigative journalism resources are so depleted, and Republicans don't have the ability to subpoena administration officials. That's possible. But from the beginning, it was clear the administration was trying hard not to give their opponents any fodder to attack the stimulus. It may have been a political calculation, but as Karl Rove always said, good policy is good politics.
-- Paul Waldman