Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill
The big news on Capitol Hill this week isn't President Bush's seventh and final State of the Union Address, but how fast will Congress act on a stimulus package to counter the economy's descent toward recession. Earlier this week, House Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly adopted a bipartisan agreement House leaders reached with President Bush intended to jump-start the slowing economy.
Now it's the Senate's turn to act. While the Senate has the right to accept, modify, or reject the House measure, my hope is that the Senate will avoid any action or inaction that inordinately delays getting help to as many Americans as possible.
I also hope that both the House and Senate will utilize this rare moment of bipartisanship to generate enough goodwill to enact common sense solutions to other problems afflicting the country.
People inside as well as outside of Congress have wide disagreements about what a stimulus package should contain.
Some contend that the bipartisan House agreement with the White House agreement fails to deal with the structural problems causing our economic slowdown - namely, the interrelated mortgage foreclosure crisis, credit crisis, and housing market.
The critics have a point. But, members of Congress face a complicated set of problems: In the short term, what can be done to provide some measure of relief to as many Americans as possible?
What can a majority of Congressional Democrats and Republicans agree to given their often vastly different perspectives on the nature of the problem and appropriate solutions to it? Can they then get the Bush Administration to agree with what they agree to?
Can whatever agreement is reached between Congress and the White House be put into effect rapidly enough to make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of Americans going through tough straits and in the overall performance of the economy?
It's clear to me is that our economy is in desperate need of an infusion of cash. Most economists agree that a stimulus package worthy of the name must put money in the hands of those Americans who will spend it quickly. This in turn will stimulate demand which in turn will increase production and with it employment, helping to revive the economy. The House package does just that.
From this standpoint, the stimulus package the House sent to the Senate is a win-win proposition. It will provide working Americans who are struggling in these difficult economic times with timely, targeted and temporary relief quickly enough to give the economy a shot in the arm.
• By providing a tax rebate of $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 a year, and $1,200, plus $300 per child, for married couples making up to $150,000 a year.
Under this proposal, 117
million families would receive a rebate check this spring. The stimulus package includes $28 billion in tax relief for 35 million working families who otherwise would not have been helped, more than 19 million of which are families with children.
Those low-income workers who made at least $3,000 last year and paid no income taxes because their earning were too low would be eligible for a rebate of up to $300 for individuals and $600 for married couples.
• By doubling the amount small businesses can write off their taxes for new investments to get our economy moving again.
• By providing immediate tax relief for all businesses that invest in new plants and equipment.
• By allowing a one-year increase in Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's conforming loan limits (from $417,000 to $625,500), which will help many families facing foreclosure refinance their loans and get the financial counseling they may need.
This last point is a vital issue in the Sixth Congressional District. As we begin what is bound to be a drawn out process of turning around the economy, it is imperative that we protect as many families as possible from foreclosure while steps are taken to shore up the housing market. Queens trails only Brooklyn in the number of foreclosures in New York City. The cost of living Sixth Congressional District constituents face is considerably above the national average.
They will particularly benefit from the expansion of the mortgage loan limits through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as improved loan opportunities through FHA.
Commentators have noted that the bipartisan stimulus package stands in stark contrast to the partisan rancor that characterized much of the first session of the 110th Congress. One can speculate on the reasons prompting this newfound spirit of compromise and cooperation. But whatever they may be, the more basic question is whether it can sustained and carried over to other important issues that face the nation -- not only the foreclosure, credit, and housing crises, mentioned above, but also issues relating to trade, enhancing America's global competitiveness, climate change, and rehabilitating and rebuilding nation's crumbling infrastructure.