A Second Stimulus

By Joshua Green

It goes without saying--doesn't it?--that this morning's news that the White House will push a $200 billion plan for business tax cuts, coupled with its $50 billion proposal for research and development tax credits, $50 billion for infrastructure, and its $30 billion plan for small businesses, amounts to calling for a second stimulus...without, of course, using the dread term "stimulus."

Seems to me that this brings a few small advantages. It will, in theory, offer some help to an economy in desperate need of a boost. Adopting the pu pu platter approach seems to have had the effect of broadening the coverage: rather than one big story about a second stimulus, this morning's Wall Street Journal devotes separate stories to each component (along with a full-page story and poll data implicitly explaining the administration's sudden motivation: "Get Ready for an Anti-Incumbent Wave"). And I suppose that not calling it a "stimulus" makes it marginally less easy to attack.

But mainly it seems like an enormous--again implicit--admission of error on the administration's part, and rolling it out piecemeal, on balance, a losing strategy. First, these measures come far too late. Had the White House put forward a unified package in the spring, as it considered doing, some version might have already passed (one that would necessarily include Republican plums like business tax cuts, yes, but also measures that Democrats favor). By presenting the components individually, Republicans, whose support will be necessary to pass anything, are free to select whatever they fancy from the pu pu platter and condemn the rest as irresponsible Democratic deficit spending. Which is exactly what they're doing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the infrastructure initiative (with piercing accuracy, I'd add), "A last-minute cobbled-together stimulus bill with more than $50 billion in new tax hikes will not reverse the complete lack of confidence Americans have in Washington Democrats' ability to help this economy."

And the business tax cuts? "These aren't necessarily bad proposals," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, before tacking on some pro forma Democrat bashing.

Then there's the matter of the timetable. It appears unlikely that anything but the small-business bill will make it through Congress before November. A better bet is that the initiatives that Republicans favor will get taken up early next year--meaning there's a good chance that a (probably) Republican Congress will kick things off by passing a massive tax cut for business. And who do you suppose will benefit from that scenario? Sometimes it's amazing to recall that Democrats control Washington.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/09/a-second-stimulus/62543/