Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What I’ve Gleaned So Far About The Stimulus Plan

Get Ready To Put Out
© 2009 Leighann Lord

Okay, I was tired of people telling me what’s in The Stimulus Package so I decided to read it for myself. I’m an intelligent woman, a college graduate with a degree in English. How hard could it be?

In the age of serious scholarly research I went to Google and typed in "Stimulus Package." Google came back with, "Did you mean ‘The Economic Stimulus Plan?’" I said, "Yes." And Google said, "Are you sure?" Instead of the actual text of the plan, Google first gave me a lot of statistics, as if trying to ease me into it.

When The Stimulus Plan left the House of Representatives, it was clocking in at a jaunty 1,788 pages. For a bit of perspective, "War and Peace" – the longest novel in literary history – is 1,463 pages and is only slightly less boring. The Bible (in it’s many incarnations) is not as long but has probably saved more people. The longest "Harry Potter" novel, "Order of the Phoenix," is 870 pages. An entertaining read, even at the full retail price of $29.95. The Stimulus Plan that left The House retailed at more than $800 billion. That’s a lot of muggle money.

Everyone I talk to seems genuinely surprised that anybody would actually try to read the Stimulus Plan. But why wouldn’t I read it? It’s my money. But it begs the question, who’s curling up with this three and a half ream tome? I haven’t seen any pictures or You Tube video of our Congressional representatives pulling bleary-eyed all nighters trying to get through it. I can’t say that I blame them. It’s not as easy to read and understand as the Tax Code.

Try as I might, I have yet to luck into any Stimulus Plan Cliff Notes, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and StimulusWatch.org have been helpful. I am incrementally closer to understanding the big picture issues. The Republicans want to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes. The Democrats want to do it by spending money.

Cutting taxes seems like a good idea. As someone who works for herself, pays her own social security, and forks over state and federal quarterlies, a little relief is long over due. But what tax cuts do they have in mind? Property tax, inheritance tax and luxury tax cuts only helps someone who has property, inheritance or luxury. We need tax cuts on the basics: food, clothing, shelter, transportation and shoes; pretty shoes, preferably size eight.

Spending money seems like a good idea, too. This is the theory behind dating. Guys spend money on Girls in the hopes that something good will come of it. Free dinner and drinks can indeed be very stimulating. This is why as a young woman on the dating scene, my Dad always insisted I "Go Dutch"; not just to protect my virtue but to be, as he put it, "Respectful of the guy’s pocket."

"Ask yourself where he’s getting the money to spend on you." Good question.

Where is the government getting the money to spend on us? I guess some it comes from my taxes, but if that’s the case, why don’t I just keep it instead of giving it to the government? Doesn’t stimulus begin at home? But tax revenues aren’t enough, not with the likes of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner and former Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle holding out. Perhaps a Washington DC-wide audit would yield all the money we need. With interest and penalties, we could have a surplus.

In the meantime, we have to borrow the money we need. Enter the Chinese. China has graciously been purchasing U.S. Treasury Bills; not the Bernie Madoff brand – at least I hope – but the real thing. Is it wise to stimulate the economy with borrowed money? It assumes that we’ll all be stimulated enough to put out — I mean, pay it back. I’m not an economic expert but that theory hasn’t worked out so well with my Visa Bill. It’s a debt monkey on my back that is growing swiftly into an 800-pound gorilla. I’m not feeling so much stimulated as bogged down.

This may not be within the government’s purview, but I’d like to see a moratorium or a roll back on usury level credit card interest rates. That’s something that could really help people. Okay, I mean me, but I’m people too. If Congress has the power to confirm a tax-troubled Treasury Secretary, they can do something about my Visa bill.

The hope is that spending money on certain projects will create jobs. People with jobs spend money and pay taxes – Treasury Secretarys and unregistered lobbyists notwithstanding. But which projects? The "shovel ready" ones of course.

Ahh, construction. That could get a little expensive especially if you factor in the cost of delays, over runs, permits, graft, waste, theft and shoddy work with substandard materials that will have to redone sooner than expected or hastily repaired after a catastrophic accident because there was no money in the budget for regularly scheduled maintenance.

My eagerness to read the Stimulus Plan has been dampened as it makes it way through the Senate. Maybe Google was right. Maybe I’m not ready. I have that same queasy, inept feeling I had when I tried to do my own taxes. It’s humbling to admit when something is beyond you. I’m at least smart enough to hire a professional, someone I trust, to do my taxes.

We’re supposed to have people we trust (i.e., our elected officials) reading, understanding, improving and passing an economic stimulus plan that works. So it is my earnest hope that they stop arguing and start explaining. Help me and everyone else understand why they shouldn’t all be fired on the spot and replaced with the current and soon to be unemployed people who are all too painfully aware of what’s at stake.

As we’ve learned from Bernie Madoff, we can’t put all our investment eggs in one basket. Let’s have some tax cuts. Let’s have some spending. Let’s do both with responsibility and accountability. Let’s get people working. Let’s get some of those shovels digging. I’ll even do my part by putting on a cute outfit and strutting by a few of those new construction sites. This will be particularly fun if my Shoe Tax Credit comes through. No pork. Strictly Payless.

You may have noticed that this essay is a little longer than my regular fare. In terms of pages, however, it’s less than one quarter of 1 percent of The Stimulus Plan and, I hope, more enjoyable.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

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