House Democrats passed a nearly trillion-dollar so-called stimulus bill this week at the urging of President Obama, but the spending may do little or nothing to get this economy moving again. Not even the president can explain how giving more money to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or $50 million more to the National Endowment for the Arts will stimulate anything but a good laugh. Most of the money in the bill will take so much time to work its way into the real economy, it's unlikely it will shorten the current recession or keep people from losing their jobs. Much of it will simply fund the pork-barrel projects dear to the heart of members of Congress. And with Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House, there will be no check on profligate spending.
But if we're going to have a trillion-dollar stimulus, here's a modest proposal for a better way to do it. This approach would cost about the same as the Democrats' current plan, but it could put money into people's pockets in weeks, not years.
Why not give every man, woman, and child in the United States $3,000 to spend on pretty much anything they choose. The price tag would be about $900 billion, barely more than what is in the House package now. But unlike the Democrats' plan, which has government making the decision about how the money should be spent, people would get to decide for themselves.
There'd be no limits on who could receive the money -- a rich man would get the same three grand that a poor woman or child received. The program isn't intended to redistribute wealth, but to infuse the economy with cash. The only rule that would apply is that the money would have to be spent within a certain period of time, say 18 months. In addition, most of the money would have to be spent on buying things: payment toward a new or used car, down payment on a home, some new appliances, home remodeling, clothes, electronics, or even a vacation. Hey, you could even use it to put solar panels on your roof or erect a windmill in your background if that's what you wanted. But only a portion of the money could go to paying down credit card or current mortgage debt -- say, a third -- and then only if the person was already two months in arrears in their payments.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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