Faster than you can say "This time it's for the great-great-great grandchildren," Commerce Sec. Gary Locke has accused himself of being "imprecise" when he described plans for a second stimulus package earlier today.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Locke said today: "If there is to be another stimulus—and that's being hotly discussed and very seriously considered within the administration as well as members of Congress—it needs to be very targeted, very specific and we need to be very mindful of the deficit as well."
Locke is now back under wraps, with a Commerce Dept. spokesman specifying that he was referring to "all the different job-creating measures being considered" in Washington, D.C.
In an appearance on Meet the Press yesterday, Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner did not refer to any job-creating measures while making his own denial of a second stimulus package. An excerpt:
David Gregory: Do you need more stimulus?
Tim Geithner: I don't think we need to make that judgment yet, David. There's about half of the money committed by the Congress is still working its way through the system—by design; it was designed to work over two years. So we're not in a position where we need to make a choice about whether it's gonna take more than that to bring growth back. And again, that's only a bridge. You're not gonna get real recovery until it's led by the private sector, by business.
David Gregory: I want to be clear. Additional stimulus you don't think is needed right now.
Tim Geithner: Not yet. Now Congress is looking at extending unemployment insurance, some other targeted programs that would expire without additional action. You saw Congress this week start to talk about extending the first-time home buyer tax credit, some other measures. We think those would be helpful things for the economy as a whole. And that will also provide some added support.
Although the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—unlike the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (which produced the Troubled Asset Relief Program) or the $400 billion Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act (which pumped funds into the then-government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)—did appear to have popular support when it was signed in February, even at the time polls differed on whether that support amounted to a majority.
Since that time, the stimulus concept has become so unpopular that even supporters accuse the Democrats of using euphemisms such as "initiatives" or "programs."
But if the case for stimulus was strong in February, it is surely stronger today, as unemployment approaches 10 percent and rates of default in nearly all credit markets continue to grow. And if, as Council of Economic Advisors Chairwoman Christina D. Romer claims, each dollar of stimulus spent produces $1.55 in growth for what Geithner calls the "economy as a whole," then what is the argument against a Stimulus II?