The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act? Really? Even by the disingenuous standards of Capitol Hill, calling the $174 billion spending package making its way through the House “a jobs bill” takes some real moxie.
Die-hard Keynesians, of course, will contend that so long as money gets pushed into the economy, how it gets spent isn’t so critical. But for a government running trillion-dollar budget deficits, at least every billion or so should count. And it’s hard to argue that this bill is optimized for job creation or economic growth.
1) For instance, the bill includes a one-year, $6.7 billion extension of the federal research and development tax credit. By not making it permanent, the credit is less likely to foster long-term investment. The bill also extends tax breaks for NASCAR and Hollywood, ensuring both Red and Blue state residents get fed their respective helpings of pork.
2) More than a quarter of the spending — $47 billion over 10 years — goes toward extending unemployment insurance benefits. Economists worry the increased availability of such assistance may reduce the intensity with which the jobless look for work and lengthen the duration of unemployment by nearly 10 percent. It’s also tough to pin down the job-creating impact of spending $63 billion to increase Medicare payments to doctors and $24 billion for higher Medicaid spending.
3) Even worse, the proposal enlarges the budget deficit. Less than a quarter of the tab is paid for, showing again just how easy it is for Congress to avoid self-imposed limits on deficit spending. And increased Medicare spending was excluded from healthcare reform so the bill could get a better score from the Congressional Budget Office.
4) The White House will argue that given the high unemployment rate, bringing down the deficit is less of a priority. But listen to what economist Carment Reinhart told the president’s deficit panel today (via The Hill):
The gross U.S. debt is approaching a level equivalent to 90 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the level at which growth has historically declined, said Carmen Reinhart, a University of Maryland economist. When gross debt hits 90 percent of GDP, Reinhart told the commission during a hearing in the Capitol, growth “deteriorates markedly.” Median growth rates fall by 1 percent, and average growth rates fall “considerably more,” she said.
Reinhart said the commission shouldn’t wait to put in place a plan to rein in deficits. “I have no positive news to give,” she said. “Fiscal austerity is something nobody wants, but it is a fact.
5) Barack Obama’s original stimulus plan was $787 billion (though costs have pushed it up to $862 billion). While some advisers argued for $1.2 trillion, the president sided with those who believed an amount of such Brobdingnagian size would alarm financial markets — and probably voters, too. This latest legislation, combined with a $17 billion jobs bill passed in March, would put the tally at around $1 trillion, not counting interest. In due course, the math will be easy enough for the markets to understand.