Don’t call it a stimulus

Officials have taken pains not to use the term, partly because moving a second stimulus suggests the first $787 billion package wasn’t successful.


White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel avoided the word stimulus last week in an interview on PBS with Judy Woodruff.

“It’s hard to find somebody who wants to call whatever this is that you’re likely to do, may do, a stimulus,” Woodruff said. “But, in effect, it would be kind of a stealth stimulus, wouldn’t it?”

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In answering Woodruff, Emanuel didn’t use the word stimulus a single time. He repeatedly said the president is pressing his economic team for “ideas” on how to create jobs.

Most of the spending under consideration looks like a stimulus, partly because most of the ideas in play were in the earlier stimulus bill.

To help those out of work, Congress may extend unemployment benefits (cost: $2.4 billion) and health subsidies provided through the COBRA program ($25 billion).

A Senate bill to extend the tax credit for first-time homebuyers may be expanded so that most others in the market would qualify ($16 billion).

Business groups want several tax breaks extended, adding tens of billions in provisions intended to spark growth. These include measures allowing companies to carry back losses on their tax returns to get refunds on taxes paid. A similar provision costing about $20 billion was dropped from the earlier stimulus.


Another provision from the first stimulus called “bonus depreciation” allows companies to deduct a portion of their new capital expenditures from their tax bills.

There’s talk about extending that provision as well.

A few other items weren’t included in the $787 billion stimulus but are being talked about now.

They include President Barack Obama’s proposal last week to send $250 checks to senior citizens who will not see a cost-of-living increase in this year’s Social Security checks ($13 billion).

Then there are the proposals to give tax incentives to businesses that create jobs. It’s unclear how much that would cost, though Clint Stretch of Deloitte Tax reckons it would be expensive. “It’s very difficult to estimate,” he said.

Add the provisions up, and you get at least $76 billion in expenses. That’s a little less than half the cost of the $168 billion stimulus package signed by President George W. Bush in February 2008.