The Bailout: Will It Work?

e debate surrounding the recently signed American Reinvestment and Recovery Act reminds me of a warning in the book of Hosea 4:6 that the “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” 

Unfortunately, the package has been overshadowed by partisanship, ideology and a great deal of misleading information. Despite its flaws and imperfections, the stimulus package as a whole represents a critical and necessary set of investments. As you evaluate the package, it’s important to separate reality from spin and not make the perfect the enemy of the good.  

It’s easy to get lost in the details of a 1,000-page, $787 billion spending and tax package. It’s also difficult to know who to trust and what to believe in the midst of such a whirlwind of conflicting opinions in the media and across political parties. However, in the face of a deepening recession that has already cost 4 million jobs and exacerbated hardship across the country, our nation needs bold action. The usual remedy of lowering the federal interest rates had already been exhausted, making it imperative to jolt the economy through timely and targeted spending and tax incentives.    

First the basics. The Act includes $501 billion in increased spending, and $286 billion in tax cuts. The larger provisions include a $400 per person "Making Work Pay" tax credit, a one-year patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), an expansion of food stamps and unemployment benefits, funding for infrastructure projects, increased spending on health care and education, and additional aid to states and individuals. The Bible calls us to prioritize the needs of the weak and the vulnerable. This is even more critical in times of crisis. Through this lens, the package does a great of deal of good by increasing funding for food stamps, expanding unemployment insurance and increasing tax credit benefits for low and moderate income families. Fortunately, economists agree that these investments will also provide some of the greatest and the fastest stimulus to the economy because these are the families that are most likely to spend money back into the economy. Therefore, what’s good and urgently needed for the poorest among us is also good and effective for the overall economy.

With any package of this size, the devil often lies in some of the fine print details. The mainstream media has been fixated on blatant examples of questionable spending projects, such as $1 billion to build a rapid transit rail line from Las Vegas to Disneyland. As much as President Obama promises to transform the ways of Washington, old patterns and behaviors die hard. Politics is still the art of compromise and deal making. Yet, these questionable programs constitute a very small percentage of the overall package and shouldn’t negate the value of desperately needed funding targeted at low- and middle-income Americans.  

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Many Republicans have been inconsistent in arguing that the stimulus package should only include those measures that will immediately stimulate the economy and spur job creation, then at the same time push for the inclusion of greater tax cuts for middle- and upper-income Americans that will have a very dubious impact on this goal. Given the scale of the economic crisis, this is not likely to be the last stimulus that will be needed. 

As we step back from getting lost in these complex details, I invite you to remember the often radical scriptural injunctions that relate to our economy. For instance, Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15 call for the periodic redistribution of resources and the cancelation of debt in order to restore right relationships between people. These stimulus measures fall far short of this radical vision, but do provide a down payment in sparking recovery while assisting those most in need. I pray that we will continue to remind our leaders that these represent both moral and prudent complementary goals. 

Adam Taylor is a leader who identifies with the Joshua generation, serving both as an associate minister at Shiloh Baptist Church and as the senior political director at Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that articulates the biblical call to social justice.

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