Monday, February 02, 2009

Rivlin on Stimulus

Testimony from the former CBO chief:

The first priority is an “anti-recession package” that can be both enacted and spent quickly, will create and preserve jobs in the near-term, and not add significantly to long run deficits. It should include temporary aid to states in the form of an increased Medicaid match and block grants for education and other purposes. Aiding states will prevent them from taking actions to balance their budgets--cutting spending and raising taxes--that will make the recession worse. The package should also include temporary funding for state and local governments to enable them to move ahead quickly with genuinely “shovel ready” infrastructure projects (including repairs) that will employ workers soon and improve public facilities. Another important element of the anti-recession package should be substantial transfers to lower and middle income people, because they need the money and will spend it quickly. This objective would be served by increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unemployment compensation, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Helping people who lose their jobs to keep their health insurance and aiding distressed homeowners also belong in this “anti-recession” package.

On the tax side, my favorite vehicle would be a payroll tax holiday, because payroll tax is paid by all workers and is far more significant than the income tax for people in the lower half of the income distribution. Moreover, a payroll tax holiday would be relatively easy to reverse when tax relief was no longer appropriate.

This anti-recession package should move forward quickly. Because its components would be temporary, there would be little reason for concern about its impact on the deficit three or four years down the road.

The anti-recession package should be distinguished from longer-run investments needed to enhance the future growth and productivity of the economy.... I understand the reasons for lumping together the anti-recession and investment packages into one big bill that can pass quickly in this emergency. A large combined package will get attention and help restore confidence that the federal government is taking action—even if part the money spends out slowly. But there are two kinds of risks in combining the two objectives. One is that money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted. The other is that it will be harder to return to fiscal discipline as the economy recovers if the longer run spending is not offset by reductions or new revenues.