Networks Cheer: 'The Check Is in the Mail,' 'Cash Is on the Way'
Thereâ€™s an old saying â€“ â€śCongress never touches anything they donâ€™t hurt,â€ť but you would never know that might be the case by the glowing reception the $150-billion taxpayer-funded stimulus plan got from each of the network newscasts last night.
â€śCash is on the way,â€ť ABCâ€™s â€śWorld Newsâ€ť anchor Charles Gibson said. â€śThe check is in the mail, or it will be to 117 million Americans. The president and congressional leaders reached agreement on a $150 billion economic stimulus package today. When passed by Congress, the package will result in the distribution of $100 billion to individuals and families. And it will mean businesses will get $50 billion in tax breaks.â€ť
All that sounds great, except that some people who pay taxes wonâ€™t get a rebate and many of those who donâ€™t pay taxes at all will get a rebate.
â€śThose checks are the centerpiece of the $150-billion package, $600 for individuals, $1,200 for working couples plus $300 for each child,â€ť NBC correspondent John Yang on the January 24 â€śNightly News.â€ť â€śThe rebates would phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 a year and couples earning more than $150,000. And workers who earn so little they don't pay any income taxes would still get cash, $300, as long as they earned at least $3,000 last year.â€ť
But money given to non-taxpayers has to come from somewhere â€“ and as many economists have pointed out, that wealth-redistribution characteristic is a reason why this package isnâ€™t a good â€śstimulus.â€ť
â€śA stimulus bill is not the place to expand government interference in the economy, bail out banks that make bad loans, or pile on unrelated new spending,â€ť wrote Rea S. Hederman, Jr., assistant director and senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. â€śWhile a tax rebate may be inevitable at this point, the public should recognize that this rebate is poorly targeted and would not have a significant effect on the economy.â€ť
CBSâ€™s Katie Couric and NBCâ€™s Brian Williams also welcomed the news, touting it as a â€śbipartisanâ€ť effort and treating that as a net positive.
â€śWell, itâ€™s not quite a done deal yet, but it looks like many of you will be getting a rebate check from Uncle Sam,â€ť Couric said on the January 24 â€śEvening News.â€ť â€śIn the biggest show of bipartisanship since 9/11, President Bush and the House leadership reached agreement today on an economic stimulus package.â€ť
â€ś[T]he threat of a recession in this country is just dire enough to have brought both parties together in Washington,â€ť Williams said on the January 24 â€śNightly News.â€ť â€śTheyâ€™ve put together what is called a stimulus package and that means over the next few months most of the people watching this broadcast tonight will get a check in the mail. Now, itâ€™s what Americans choose to do with that money that will then affect the U.S. economy or not.â€ť
None of the networks attempted to explain where this $100 billion in checks will come from. Instead, they chose to focus on other areas of concern. One concern was how Americans would spend their rebates: whether people might do something responsible â€“ save the money or pay down debt â€“ or if they will just spend it, which is what is reported to be the best way to â€śstimulateâ€ť the economy.
â€śEconomists we spoke to today said this isn't a perfect plan, but itâ€™s a good enough plan. And if it can be enacted as quickly as it was negotiated, it could make the difference between a slowdown and a recession, or a short recession and a long one,â€ť ABC correspondent Betsy Stark said on the January 24 â€śWorld News.â€ť â€śEconomists say Americans who use their rebate checks to pay bills or to save or invest may help themselves, but they won't be helping the economy.â€ť
Whether recipients spend or save their checks, however, economists like Dr. Don Boudreaux have explained that â€śgovernment cannot create genuine spending power; the most it can do is to transfer it from Smith to Jones.â€ť
â€śSpending power is not so much the fuel for economic growth as it is the reward,â€ť wrote Boudreaux, chairman of the George Mason University economics department and a BMI adviser. â€śAnd the key to economic growth is investment that raises worker productivity.â€ť
The other media concern was how soon the government would act so that the checks could be cut.
â€śThe Treasury secretary said that if Congress acts quickly and if all goes well, the checks could be in the mail by May,â€ť Yang said on â€śNightly News.â€ť â€śSome economists say that could be too late for aid that could be too little.â€ť
Prior to the unveiling of this stimulus proposal, critics in the media were worried about who these rebates would go to. Matt Lauer, co-host of NBCâ€™s â€śTodayâ€ť was worried the â€śrichâ€ť would get a cut.