In my previous Defining Ideas article, “An Unnecessary ‘Stimulus’ ” (March 5), I laid out why the about-to-be-passed $1.9 trillion federal spending bill was unnecessary. I also pointed to a few major spending items in the budget that were clearly unjustified, such as the unneeded bailout of state and local governments. But I didn’t point out that the bill will also cause harm in the long run. The harm will be of two kinds. The first is in the realm of ideas: many people will learn the wrong lessons from the spending. The second is in the realm of policy and the effects of policies: dependence on government and irresponsibility will increase, and economic freedom and long-run economic growth will fall.
This is from David R. Henderson, “The ‘Stimulus’ And The Damage Yet to Come,” Defining Ideas, March 18, 2021.
At a distance, the $1.9 trillion measure is awful; up close, it’s ugly.
A major piece of the spending bill is a $3,600 annual tax credit for each child under age six and a $3,000 tax credit for children ages six to seventeen. The credit is, in tax speak, “refundable.” Normally one can get a refund only of something one has paid. But the term “refundable” is now widely used to describe a tax credit that goes to someone who otherwise would have a tax liability that is less than the credit. For some people, these tax credits will amount to a huge increase in their income. And the tax credit is granted regardless of whether the recipients work. Thus, the measure undoes, to some extent, the highly successful welfare reform of the mid-1990s, passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Economist Scott Winship of the American Enterprise Institute points out that a non-working mother with three children could get $10,800 a year, as well as food stamps and Medicaid. That’s not a lot, but it would reduce her incentive to get married and/or to get a job.
Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, in an op-ed titled “The GOP scam is getting worse—for Republican voters. A new study shows how,” March 8, 2021, finds puzzling the fact that all Republicans in Congress voted against the bill even though the tax credit would help a lot of low-income people in the states they represent. I don’t find it puzzling at all. In fact, given how dismal the performance of Republicans in Congress has been this century, it’s slightly heartening. Why would so many Republicans vote against a bill that helps so many of their constituents? Could it be that they actually believe some of their own rhetoric, the rhetoric about keeping people off welfare and not having them depend so much on the federal government? Maybe.
Read the whole thing.