As other have reported and we’ve now confirmed, the plan is now that the new Congress will have a stimulus bill in the half trillion dollar range ready for President Obama to sign on the first day of his presidency — January 20th, 2009.
So that suggests some calendar math.
Even with big Democratic majorities and the incentive of crisis, you still don’t get this sort of legislation through Congress in a day. So if the new Congress gets sworn in January 6th, I think it’s realistic to say that you need bill basically written — at least the major line items — when both chambers convene.
Today is November 24th, one month before Christmas and the New Year’s Holidays. The severity of the crisis and the realities of the transition will keep things moving much more than usual over the holidays. But still, the holidays block out some time.
All of which suggests to me that to keep on a realistic schedule, the basic outlines of how to spend that half trillion-plus dollars needs to be worked out over the next four weeks. And there’s a lot to figure out.
‘Stimulus plans’ are generally numbered in the tens of billions of dollars. $500 billion is the number we’re talking about now. And I think you have to assume that number grows. Extensions to unemployment insurance and other counter-cyclical spending is critical. But it doesn’t put a dent in that overall price tag. So clearly to spend that kind of money you need to fund programs that do more than inject money directly into the economy. You need to fund major new programs that will likely shape the economic direction of the country for years, perhaps decades into the future — major spending on infrastructure, laying the cornerstones of a green energy economy and more.