The United States Congress is doing what may be its most important work in its earliest days of the session. Negotiating a bill that meaningfully and, to the extent possible, quickly addresses the economic crisis that is hemorrhaging jobs, capitol and confidence in virtually all sectors of the country's markets is crucial work that has produced a bill out of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. What comes now is a series of discussions and deal-makings that will produce the final measure. It is absolutely crucial to protect the measures aimed at people most affected by the downturn.
With price tags that differ by just $7 billion - pocket change in the scheme of the $820 billion and $827 billion measures passed by the House and Senate, respectively - the stimulus measures that must be conferenced represent some fundamental differences between the two chambers. House leaders are criticizing the Senate for stripping some $40 billion in aid to states and municipalities that would have provided stop-gap funding to maintain existing services and avoid layoffs of public employees. Eliminating such funding may have been a response to the criticism that helping cities and states pay their current bills is not a "stimulus" strategy but rather one of prevention. But the argument should transcend semantics. Keeping people in their jobs and keeping the garbage trucks, police cars and school buses on the roads is as valuable an element to any stimulus package as is creating jobs to replace the 3.6 million lost since December 2007. The final measures approved by the Senate, and then reconciled with the House, need to consider that keeping people employed is as much a part of any stimulus as re-employing Americans.
So, too, is extending aid to consumers who operate within the stratosphere of the familiar, namely the middle class. With the $700 billion-plus bailout throwing money at failed or failing financial institutions and their CEOs, middle class Americans were left scratching their heads about how they stood to benefit. The Senate stimulus bill agreed to Friday contains tax credits for home and auto buyers that could both substantially benefit struggling Americans while infusing some much-needed life into markets struggling to survive. The housing market's collapse kicked the underpinnings out from the U.S. economy, and pumping money into that sector to reinvigorate it is essential. That has to come in the form of making credit available, to be sure, but giving buyers a tax incentive can boost housing on the other end, as well.
There is much work to be done in Washington this week as lawmakers hammer out an agreement that will put a bill on President Obama's desk before the weekend, as is everyone's goal. It is essential that the process not be lost to political wrangling that undermines the outcome. The stakes could not be higher for the U.S. economy and all who depend on it, which is everyone. Now is not the time to concern ourselves with name-calling and party-line towing. A stimulus package of $820 billion or $827 billion is, by definition, a tax-and-spend document. That is what this country needs badly in all sectors, public and private, and at all income levels.