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The Politics Of A Second Stimulus

The Journal has its second piece in as many editions about the chatter over another stimulus bill. As on Friday, the paper reports that the White House has discussed the idea internally, but believes it's too early to pursue given that so little of the first stimulus (only about 10 percent) has been implemented. 

I disagree with this substantively--the economy has deteriorated far more than expected when the administration made the forecast on which the first stimulus was based, so it's almost certain to be insufficient even when fully implemented. But, then, I suspect the administration's economists feel more or less the same way. The big obstacle here is obviously political. And I don't necessarily mean that cynically--the only stimulus that matters is the stimulus you can get through Congress, and the prospects of passing a second stimulus at this point are exceedingly slim. As today's Journal piece notes:

So far, though, politicians of both parties are showing little eagerness to tackle another stimulus bill. Republicans have attacked the current stimulus package as wasteful and ineffective, labeling it as government bloat at a time of record deficits. As the GOP seeks to reclaim the mantle of fiscal discipline, many are loath to support another round of government spending.

"This was supposed to be about jobs, jobs, and jobs. And the fact is, it turned into nothing more than spending, spending, and more spending on a lot of big government bureaucracy," House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said on "Fox News Sunday."

Many Democrats, too, said they're disappointed with the recovery program so far but, for now at least, are resisting calls for a second package. "I don't think anybody can honestly say that we're satisfied with the results so far of the stimulus," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said on "Fox News Sunday." But he said it was too soon to push for more. "We certainly want to see how this develops over the next few months."

I guess my only response is that, while the politics of a second stimulus may be extremely unfavorable, the politics of 10 percent unemployment as you head into a midterm election--or, worse, a presidential re-election campaign--are far, far worse. Even if you can't pass another stimulus today, you want to begin laying the groundwork for passing one as soon as possible. Yes, you'll take a lot of heat from the GOP even at that point. But not nearly as much as you'll take if the unemployment rate doesn't improve by the summer/fall of 2010.

--Noam Scheiber