When Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) lost his bid for reelection in November, it brought to an end a congressional career that spanned nearly a half century. As a former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar’s faith in the ability of the federal government to turn taxpayer water into wine was typical for a politician ensconced in the Washington Beltway bubble.
The Senate is set to take up legislation reauthorizing the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. A relic of the Great Society, the EDA was created to help economically depressed areas of the country. Today it’s just another example of an unnecessary, unconstitutional program that lingers around because politicians like to demonstrate to the public that they’re “doing something.”
President Obama has proclaimed today to be National Entrepreneurs’ Day. The president who has brought us regime uncertainty, more regulations, more government intrusion into the economy, more debt, and is proposing to raise taxes on productive businesses and individuals wants to celebrate entrepreneurship?
Alaska’s Juneau Empire recently examined the state’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership and found that its claims of success aren’t backed by reality. MEPs are a nationwide network of centers that provide technical and managerial assistance to small and medium-sized firms. Federal funds from the Department of Commerce pay for one-third of the costs of MEP centers, with the balance of costs being paid by state and local governments and the private sector.
A couple weeks ago Orson Swindle, an assistant secretary of commerce for economic development in the Reagan Administration, was kind enough to send me news articles from his days battling policymakers over porky Economic Development Administration projects. In a 1989 Insight article, Orson gave a nice summation of one of the problems with special interest spending:
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s $400 million Economic Development Administration provides grants and loans to state and local governments, nonprofit groups, and businesses in regions that are supposed to be economically distressed. The EDA is a relic of the 1960s belief that the federal government can solve the problems of distressed urban centers. Its legacy is one of wasteful and politicized spending. Former EDA director, Orson Swindle, called it a “congressional cookie jar,” and the legendary anti-pork Democrat Senator William Proxmire argued that it “deserves to die.”