The $789 billion stimulus bill that President Barack Obama is expected to sign soon is being assailed from the left as not big enough and by the right as way too much. But under the urgent circumstances faced by the American people, the bill is good enough at least for now.
The essence of the bill is to spend money, to buy products, services and work that will, in turn, stimulate the pace of commerce and revive the economy. If it works, that should eventually help stop the bleeding of jobs and, instead, encourage employers to start hiring and investing.
About two-thirds of the bill is spending and, unlike the hundreds of billions poured into Iraq and Afghanistan over the past six years, this money will be spent at home, on highways, bridges, Internet lines, water treatment plants and the like. It will help put people to productive work building something useful. It will also extend unemployment aid, food stamps and other programs in which those who get the money almost certainly will spend it rather than save it.
One of the principal sources of anxiety for Americans who lose their jobs is losing their health insurance. Under the federal COBRA program, laid-off workers can remain under their employer's health insurance plan, but they have to pay the full, often unaffordable, premium. The stimulus would help by providing such workers 60 percent of that premium.
The other one-third of the bill is in tax cuts for individuals and businesses. The hope is that with more money to spend, Americans will spend it, thus stimulating the production and sale of yet more goods and services and eventually putting more people back to work.
The worry is that Americans, who already have slashed spending, will save their tax cut money rather than spend it, thus raising the national debt without stimulating the economy. What makes great sense for prudent individuals to save money when times are tough unfortunately makes the tough times worse for the economy as a whole.
Of course, if you've lost your job, a big fat tax cut probably won't do you much good.
Democrats politically will own this bill, for better or worse. If the economy revives sooner and stronger than expected, they will be able to take a lot of credit to the ballot box in November 2010.
If not, Republicans will be able to shout "told you so" from the rooftops, for no Republican in Congress has supported the stimulus legislation except for a few senators.
Meanwhile, Texas Republicans in Congress and the Legislature should make sure this state gets every dollar of stimulus spending it can. Gov. Rick Perry has turned his nose up at the stimulus bill, and that's fine as long as the state gets its share of it. Texans now or later will have to carry their share of the federal debt to pay for this bill, so they should also get the benefits.