Let’s Get Real Economic Stimulus

It’s now more clear than ever that the so-called economic stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year is inadequate. It is now time to demand that Congress get to work on finishing the job by passing a second economic stimulus package in the coming weeks—and do it on its own merits, without falling into the trap of linking its passage to more funding for the war in Iraq.

Families who are underwater already because of declining home values, rising energy prices and ballooning costs for other basic needs are not in a position to stimulate the economy with $600 rebate checks. That case is made vividly by a recently released report by the Center for Law and Social Policy. And business tax cuts on top of the tax cuts already lavished on corporate America will continue to be meaningless to American workers in the absence of a strategy that encourages investment in American jobs, not to mention investment in education, infrastructure and human needs.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has taken the lead on moving a $118.9 billion stimulus package, offering to work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to get it passed.

The proposed package represents the best thinking of a broad range of progressive policymakers and would fill in critical gaps left unaddressed in the earlier stimulus bill, including increased spending for unemployment insurance and food stamps; Medicaid payments to states; home foreclosure relief; and capital spending on schools, public housing, roads and sewer lines. (The Coalition for Human Needs has prepared a fact sheet with details of the plan and reasons why the elements are necessary.)

For the long term, the Progressive Caucus proposes a “Rebuild and Reinvest in America” program that would address the backlog in repairing and upgrading our public assets, from schools to transportation.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Emergency Coalition for America’s Priorities met with a broad range of activist organizations to discuss strategies for moving the stimulus agenda forward. They were given a letter of support for a stimulus package and were told to begin a lobbying effort leading up to the week of May 5, when the House is expected to take up a a $102.5 billion emergency supplemental bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of the facts in the support letter being circulated:

  • 1.3 million workers who have been unemployed for six months or linger were actively seeking work in March.
  • Food stamp recipients are spending nearly all of their allotments each month, which average $1 per meal, and rising food costs will mean food stamp allotments will fall far short of of the minimum families need to stave off hunger.
  • States are facing shortfalls of at least $39 billion, forcing cutbacks that could worsen the impact of a recession in areas where the cutbacks hit hardest.
  • Youth unemployment has risen 19 percent since 2000, a strong case for adding a summer youth employment component to a stimulus package.

President Bush, and the Republican who wants to succeed him in the White House, Arizona Sen. John McCain, have argued that Congress, have said that Congress should not move on a second stimulus package; they want Congress instead to make permanent the 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy that have widened the gap between the rich and the working class. So there is great temptation on Capitol Hill to link the stimulus package to something President Bush does want desperately: that supplemental war spending bill.

The misspending on the failed war in Iraq is significantly responsible for our domestic economic problems. Continuing that war should not be the price for beginning to repair the economic damage at home. The political challenge of the coming weeks is to get Congress to say yes to a meaningful short-term and long-term strategy for getting our economy back on track, without at the same time having to say yes to a war that long ago should have ended.

(Updated April 23, 2008, 11:45 a.m.)

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