The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
After Congress agreed to its $169 billion stimulus package last night, a happy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) boasted, "What has passed the Congress in record time is a gift to the middle class and those who aspire to it in our country."
A gift to the middle class it truly will be—and just in time for the upcoming elections. But will it prove to be an effective boost to a sluggish economy or merely the latest bit of largess that Congress and presidents spread so well, especially in even-numbered years? My guess is that it will be more of the latter than the former.
Nearly 90 percent of families will get cash payments, according to TPC. Most singles will receive checks of $600, couples will get $1,200, and children will get $300. The benefit will start to phase out at $75,000 ($150,000 for couples). Business will get faster tax write-offs for capital equipment purchased in 2008.
Thankfully, some of the worst ideas—energy tax breaks and tax cuts for banks and real estate developers—were dumped. And the checks are roughly targeted to those most likely to spend them. But still….
Because the IRS is so busy processing tax returns, families won't see a dime for at least three months. By then, the slowdown that started late last year will either have ended or deepened into a full-blown recession.
If all of this turns out to be just a temporary slump, these billions will be little more than a give-away to an awful lot of people who won't need it. A windfall, by the way, that will be financed with borrowed money that must be paid back, sooner or later.
By contrast, if things get very bad, as some economists predict, these checks won't keep the wolf from the door. Maybe we'll get lucky, as we were in 2001, when the stimulus kicked in more or less in time (only a few months late). But that's asking a lot of government work. In the end, this entire exercise feels like little more than politicians doing something just to prove they could.
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