(The following entry was initially published in The Kansas City Star on February 5, 2008. They did some minor editing, primarily changing the paragraph structure. A longer essay on the same topic was posted on this blog on January 28, 2008.)
Representative Emanuel Cleaver expressed legitimate concern regarding one item in President Bush’s State of the Union address. ("In Congress," 1/29.)
While agreeing with the president about the need to "pump up the economy," he stated that "we’re going to borrow money . . . the bulk of it from China, and then our public will go out and buy Chinese products."
Some recipients may choose to pay down personal debt or save the money. These alternatives will mute the stimulative effect of the rebates.
Rep. Cleaver indicated he would support the stimulus package because "there does not appear to be any other option on the table." Some Democrats are reportedly disappointed that the package won’t include an extension of unemployment benefits.
One of our elected representatives should put another option on the table that is more effective than a shopping spree and preferable to extended unemployment benefits - a liberal dose of New Deal-style public works programs.
I am aware that using the terms "liberal" and "New Deal" will touch a raw nerve with many "conservatives." Before the knee-jerk reaction sets in, I hasten to add that Ronald Reagan, among others, advocated replacing welfare with "workfare."
Reagan believed that giving someone a hand up in the form of a job is preferable to giving them a hand-out in the form of welfare benefits. I agree. There is work to be done. Bridges around the country are in need of repair or replacement. Sewage systems in many cities need to be updated and/or replaced. A modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps could put people to work planting trees.
Public works projects would stimulate the economy more effectively than tax rebates and move able-bodied workers from the unemployment and/or welfare roles to gainful employment in the process.
Legislation to send out tax rebates will undoubtedly sail through Congress. What politician wants to play the role of the Grinch instead of being counted among those playing Uncle Santa Claus by giving taxpayers the generous gift of borrowed money - especially in an election year?
When the shopping spree is over, we should put people to work.