Obama Stimulus Taking Shape; Fed's Yellen Wants Banks In
House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations chairman Dave Obey, D-Wis., on Thursday unveiled the House version of the $825 billion stimulus package that resulted from extensive discussions among Congressional Democrats rushing to accommodate President-elect Barack Obama's vision of an economic stimulus based on both tax cuts and spending programs. The House version of the package targets creating clean energy, "modernizing" roads, bridges and waterways, focusing on education, providing tax cuts, lowering health care costs, protecting public sector jobs and "helping workers hurt by the economy," according to Obey. "High unemployment and rising costs have outpaced Americans’ paychecks," a summary of the bill reads, in part. "We will help workers train and find jobs, and help struggling families make ends meet." The bill's authors intend to do so through $102 billion put toward increased unemployment benefits and job training, assistance for the cost of retained healthcare benefits and increased benefits -- by more than 13 percent -- under food stamps. Among other programs outlined in the package are a $4 billion reserve for state and local law enforcement funding, $30 billion for highway construction and $6 billion to expand broadband internet access to rural and "underserved" areas in the basis that "the economy sees a tenfold return" on every dollar invested in broadband. "In the next two weeks, the Congress will be considering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009," Obey wrote in a media statement posted on his Web site. "This package is the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy and begin the process of transforming it for the 21st century with $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts and $550 billion in thoughtful and carefully targeted priority investments with unprecedented accountability measures built in." He acknowledged the package will bring the nation into a deeper deficit, but warned the lack of passage will cause the economy to shed even more jobs and risk "economic chaos" that would follow an increased deficit without the additional jobs created. Read a summary of the package. Stimulus for banks, too? The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco president and CEO Janet Yellen spoke Thursday in support of diverting some funds within an economic stimulus package to support banks. In a speech given to the Financial Women's Association, Yellen argued that a crucial role of fiscal policy, "which is important in the current crisis, is to address the maladies that now afflict the financial sector." "...[We] are in extraordinary circumstances, and the case for substantial fiscal stimulus over the next few years is very strong," she said. "First...it is time to 'pull out all the stops' -- that is, to deploy both monetary and fiscal policy -- to avoid a deep and lingering recession. Second, the case for fiscal stimulus is strengthened by the fact that monetary policy has already moved its short-term interest rate essentially to zero." With the federal funds rate zero-bound at a target range of zero to 0.25 percent, the Federal Open Market Committee cannot push rates any lower to stimulate the economy, Yellen argued. "The market for commercial mortgage-backed securities, a mainstay for financing large projects, has all but dried up," she said. "Banks and other traditional lenders have also become less willing to extend funding," making the argument for a bank stimulus all the more relevant, according to Yellen. Read Yellen's speech. Write to Diana Golobay at email@example.com.