COMMENTS: Stimulus Pact Speedily Settled

The economy eclipsed the Presidential primaries to qualify as Story of the Day for the fifth weekday out of the last six. All three networks led with the agreement on Capitol Hill between House leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on a $150bn fiscal stimulus package to try to avert a serious recession. Under the deal 116m individuals--all but the affluent and the very poor--will receive a check from the federal government late this spring. Middle class adults will receive $600 each, plus $300 for each child in their household; the working poor will each receive $300.

ABC and NBC both assigned the stimulus package story to their White House correspondents, where President George Bush called the agreement "swift and decisive." NBC's John Yang agreed, calling its speed "remarkable" even though he warned that "some Senate Democrats are pressing for a bigger package, which could delay the process." ABC's Jonathan Karl (embargoed link) reported that the Democrats were defeated in their desire for "more help for the working poor" including extended unemployment benefits and food stamps.

When Secretary Paulson anticipated that checks would be mailed out in May, CBS' business correspondent Anthony Mason was skeptical. He pointed out the Internal Revenue Service would first have to handle income tax returns so mid-July would be more likely: "It may not come in time to keep us out of recession but it should speed up any recovery." ABC's Betsy Stark consulted economists, who pronounced the plan "not perfect" yet "good enough" to make the difference between a slowdown and a recession "or a short recession and a long one." The economists told her that an extension of unemployment benefits would have been better than this mass mailing of checks: "People without jobs are almost sure to take the money and spend it on basic necessities…the biggest bang for the stimulus buck."

Rounding out the economic coverage were the now-conventional vignettes of individuals coping with hard times. On CBS' Hitting Home series Cynthia Bowers brought us Karen Wimbish, a Los Angeles homeowner who now owes more on her mortgage than her property is worth. A trio of small business operator were profiled on George Lewis' NBC report: the shuttle van driver, the florist and the realtor.


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