The Stimulus Spending Isn't Fast Enough

The administration's website for tracking the stimulus spending,, has started to fill up with loads of useful information that is worth checking out. In particular, take a look at the spending updates. Bob Williams of the wonderful TaxVox blog says the spending has "gotten off to an encouraging start" and we should "watch to see how the game plays out." I agree with the latter part: It's too early to judge the stimulus. But I really don't see what's so encouraging about the information the government has released. If anything, it's evidence that the government had better spend faster!

how fast the stimulus spending.jpg

Based on some back-of-the-envelop arithmetic, this chart makes it look like stimulus funds are becoming available at a rate of about $1.27 billion per day, and being spent at a rate of $0.26 billion per day. So the pool of available funds is growing about five times faster than the pool of total spending. By the look of the graph above, the rate doesn't appear to be getting any faster.

Of course, since the pool of total funds is fixed -- $787 billion dollars -- the rate of spending is all that really matters. But this rate of spending is not fast enough to satisfy the administration's own standard -- namely, that 75% of the stimulus be spent in the first 18 months. (See the administration's metrics report PDF for more.) 75% of $787 billion dollars is a tad over $590 billion. If $0.26 billion dollars are spent every day, it'll take more than six years to spend 75% of the stimulus money.

Of course, a good chunk of the stimulus money -- $116.2 billion -- is supposed to be distributed through the Making Work Pay tax credit, which almost by definition will take effect in the next 18 months. But even if you subtract the MWP tax credit -- even if you subtract every tax provision from the stimulus bill -- the current rate of spending isn't fast enough to pay out 75% in the next 18 months.

And if you head to the agency-by-agency breakdown of the spending, it looks like the vast majority of the funds that have been spent so far come from the Department of Health and Human Services giving Medicaid grants to states (which, in turn, would need to be spent by the states). Most of the agencies have spent only a small amount of their available funds, and a good number haven't spent a dime. Meanwhile, The Railroad Retirement Board -- a federal agency that handles retirement benefits for railroad workers -- has somehow managed to spend about 34 times its available funding, mostly on administrative costs:

railroad retirement board.jpg

It's probably a little early to get on the administration's case. But I don't really think the administration has much to brag about. Spend faster!

Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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