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Stimulus Plan Needs Better Ideas

You can't spend rhetoric. Especially empty rhetoric. President Obama was eloquent trying to sell his economic stimulus program to the American public in Elkhart, Indiana, and Fort Myers, Florida, last week. And one homeless woman he met eventually did find lodging, but since that hour, hundreds more families have lost their homes.

Meanwhile, during congressional hearings last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner violated the first rule of public speaking: If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything!

And then both fell into the trap of assuming that if you throw enough money at a problem, a solution will emerge. That's the basis for creating a stimulus bill that only stimulates the spending appetite of the Friends of Democrats, who were left out in the past eight years of the Republican spending orgy.

Before the new administration took office, we were facing a $1.2 trillion deficit. Now we'll be over $2 trillion in the hole for the year, and that's not counting more bank-bailout funds.

This is your tax dollars at work -- or at play.

It's not that it's all a waste of money. The real problem is that there's no direct link to jobs, growth, incentives and multipliers in so many of the spending allocations.

  • Income tax credit: $400 for individuals, $800 for couples. The tax credit phases out for singles with income over $75,000 and couples earning over $150,000. Problem: You won't see the money until you file taxes next year, unless your employer is willing to readjust withholding schedules!
  • Car-buyer sales-tax deduction: Deduct state and local sales and excise taxes even if you don't itemize. Problem: Applies only to new cars and may not be enough to make much difference.
  • First-time home-buyer credit: Refundable tax credit of 10% of purchase price up to $8,000 for purchases in 2009. Phases out at incomes over $75,000 single, $150,000 couple. Problem: Credit maxes out at $80,000 home price, too low a limit. Must be repaid if house is sold within three years.
  • Pell grants increased by $500: Max grant is now $5,350 in 2009. Problem: Nice headline, but not enough to help the poorest students, and where's the stimulus effect?
  • Higher-ed tax credit: Spend up to $4,000 on higher education, and get a $2,500 credit. Problem: Limited to those already spending college money, and doesn't make borrowing -- or repayments -- easier.
  • COBRA health insurance help: Employer will pay 65% of costs to extend your health-care coverage after you're unemployed. Problem: Very helpful to those who lose jobs, but may still leave them with significant monthly cost. And, again, where's the stimulus?

There's nothing really wrong with these ideas. But, even lumped together, they don't make a significant dent in our economic problems. They don't deal with the thousands facing foreclosure or the threat of bankruptcy. And they don't work together to get the economy going again.

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