Obama and Biden will shame you


Obama and Biden both gave stern warnings yesterday about misuse of stimulus funds. "If we see money being misspent, we're going to put a stop to it," Obama told a gathering of state officials at the White House. How? Obama says "we will call it out and we will publicize it." Biden, meanwhile, scolded: "If we don't get this right, folks, this is the end of the opportunity to convince Congress that anything should go to the states."

If this counts as accountability, color me unimpressed. "Accountability" surely implies the likelihood or possibility of real consequences. The governor of Arkansas is accountable to the people of Arkansas. The managers of a company are accountable to the shareholders and the board. (Or at least to Carl Icahn.) But the managers of Pfizer aren't accountable to the shareholders of Microsoft, and Bobby Jindal isn't accountable to the moral indignation of Barack Obama. So when Obama and Biden start talking about holding states accountable for their stimulus spending, I'm left a little confused about what they mean.

How do they imagine this working? Say some construction project in Cincinnati takes a long time to get off the ground. Does Robert Gibbs read denounce the foreman at a press conference, or is his name posted on recovery.gov? Doubtful. And while Biden's answer suggests that the administration just won't give them money in the future, Nancy Pelosi is making it sound like stimulus cash is a one-time offer, anyway.

Biden says the administration is going to roll out some stimulus spending restrictions today, so I hope he puts my fears to rest. But I don't understand how this works, either: it doesn't sound like the administration is pushing new legislation, so can it just put retroactive restrictions on a bill the president has already signed?

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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