Prodded by last week’s disappointing job-creation numbers, Democrats and Republicans alike are calling for Congress to tackle yet another “jobs bill” — but after 2½ years of stimulus, and well more than $1 trillion committed, the appetite for stimulus spending has dropped.
That means that for the next two months, as lawmakers rush to complete the heavy legislative lifting before they turn full time to the campaign trail, the key question, as it has been for most of the past two years, again will be to spend - or not to spend.
Democratic leaders, who have already invested politically in stimulus spending over the past 15 months, said the fact that the economy is growing at all is testament to the $862 billion stimulus bill enacted in early 2009 and to repeated efforts to build on that.
Over the next few months, they hope to add to that list by approving more unemployment benefits, job-training aid, spending for state and local governments to hire or keep workers, and a small-business lending fund.
“Democrats in Congress will continue taking action on our No. 1 priority: creating good-paying jobs for the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
But with the national debt now at $13 trillion and the annual deficit expected to be well above $1 trillion again this year, skittishness has risen in both parties.
That has forced a scale-back of some of Democrats’ plans, including dropping billions of dollars in extended health care subsidies to those who have lost jobs.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said it’s time the government got out of the way of companies that could create jobs.
“The two things that are growing fastest in this Democrat economy are the size of the federal government and the crushing burden of the national debt,” he said. “Americans are doing everything possible to work harder, produce more, and live with less, while Washington is saddling them with even more government and insurmountable debt for their efforts.”
Though last year’s $862 billion Recovery Act gets the bulk of the attention, it’s just one of the efforts that’s been billed as stimulus. The first legislation pitched as stimulus was enacted under President George W. Bush, who in February 2008 signed into law more than $100 billion in temporary corporate tax cuts and tax rebates for individuals.
Since the beginning of 2008, the government has committed $1.1 trillion to direct spending and more than $800 billion in tax breaks, according to figures compiled on Stimulus.org, a website run by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Part of the problem is that it’s impossible to gauge whether any of that has worked, said Maya MacGuineas, president of the organization.
“For everybody who claims it’s been a huge success to an absolute failure, one never knows what would have happened without it, and there’s absolutely no way of saying it created this many jobs, we would have gone into a depression without it,” Ms. MacGuineas said.
She said she thinks the spending helped and was necessary but that it added to the nation’s fiscal crunch.
“Given where we are today, it appears we’re done with needing to throw hundreds of billions at the problem,” she said.