It's Not a Jobs Bill. But It's Close!

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Howard Gleckman offers a fair, but slightly overstated, case against the next stimulus bill in his piece "The No-Jobs Bill." His main beef is with the $32 billion in tax credit "extenders." Those are the temporary tax goodies we don't want to yank away just yet. (If you want to see them for yourself, check out this PDF.)

Some of these extenders -- to help out NASCAR racetrack owners, Indian reservations, rum importers, and the like -- would be hilarious if they didn't represent actual taxpayer dollars at work. But others aren't that vile, like the $6 billion in tax credits for small businesses and $1.5 billion to help students deduct tuition money from their tax bill.

Gleckman concludes that "for better or worse you won't find much real stimulus in this bill." Two points on that. First, unemployment insurance and state aid are among most effective stimulus measures out there according to Moody's Economy, and they're at the center of this bill.

Second, it's worth pointing out again that a "jobs bill" is a funny concept. The federal government can only create private sector jobs the way Alex Rodriguez can beat the Boston Red Sox. A-Rod can go four-for-four with four home runs, but he's 1/18th of the game. He certainly can't pitch, or bat for the other eight guys on his team. Similarly, the Senate jobs bill is only about 0.7% of the economy. The federal government can increase disposable income by billions of dollars, but families don't have to spend that cash, and even if they do, businesses don't have to used that spent income to hire new workers. The best A-Rod and the federal government can do is create the conditions in which their definition of success is more likely.

To support the jobs bill, as I do and most of my readers don't, is not to equate unemployment insurance with MiracleGro. It's to say that states are cutting back and retail sales are slowing, and sound economics says we can pass measures that make job creating, or saving, more likely.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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