Steve Chapman

Even by the administration's logic, the success story doesn't hold up. The contraction of the economy slowed sharply in the first month after the passage of the stimulus -- before any appreciable amounts of federal cash had been spent. Which suggests that the economy, far from requiring huge injections of federal cash to avert a depression, was already bouncing back on its own, something economies did for eons before Keynesian prescriptions came along.

What has happened since then doesn't make the case for buying a second round. Apparently the recession has already ended and unemployment has begun to fall -- despite the fact that most of that $787 billion is doing about as much stimulating as the gold in Fort Knox. Only about one-third of the money has actually gone out the door.

If one-third of the stimulus spending was potent enough to rekindle growth, shouldn't the other two-thirds be even more effective? Why do we need to throw more tens or hundreds of billions on the fire when it's already starting to blaze? On the other hand, if the first stimulus fizzled, as the evidence suggests, it makes no sense to do a sequel.

Either way, there's precious little to be said for opening the throttle of a federal spending machine that is already hurtling out of control. But there's a lot to be said against it. Every big new appropriation represents money that has to be paid back with interest, on top of the $12 trillion we already owe.

Whatever else it may do, piling up more debt brings us closer to the day when the government will have to choose among such dire options as vastly increasing taxes, resorting to inflation and defaulting on its obligations. If that day comes, Santa Claus may be hard to find.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate