UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 23, 2009

WHY THE STIMULUS MAY LEAVE THE ECONOMY SOMEWHAT FLAT

Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post - 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. . . The stimulus package includes $5.5 billion for overhauling federal buildings. The CBO estimates that only 23 percent of that would be spent in 2009 and 2010.

Worse, the economic impact of the stimulus is already smaller than advertised. The package includes an obscure tax provision: a "patch" for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). This protects many middle-class Americans against higher taxes and, on paper, adds $85 billion of "stimulus" in 2009 and 2010. One problem: "It's not stimulus," says Len Burman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Congress was "going to do it anyway. They do it every year." Strip out the AMT patch, and the stimulus drops to about $700 billion, with almost 30 percent spent after 2010. . .

Using funds from the stimulus, states might offset 40 percent of their looming deficits, says the CBPP's Nicholas Johnson. The effect on localities would probably be less. Congress might have done more by providing large, temporary block grants to states and localities and letting them decide how to spend the money. Instead, the stimulus provides most funds through specific programs. There's $90 billion more for Medicaid, $12 billion for special education, $2.8 billion for various policing programs. More power is being centralized in Washington.

No one knows the economic effects of all this; estimates vary. But 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.

1 Comments:

Anonymous wellbasically said...

cya

February 23, 2009 12:28 PM  

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