Nothing like going on the air and reporting the government is going to give you a check for x dollars - depending on your income - to please your viewers. But reporting about it as if there were no strings attached isn't straightforward.
However, the glowing reception the $150-billion taxpayer-funded stimulus plan got from each of the network newscasts gave that impression last night.
"Cash is on the way," ABC's "World News" anchor Charles Gibson said. "The 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."
All that sounds great, except that some people who pay taxes won't get a rebate, and many of those who don't pay taxes at all will get a rebate.
This money given to non-taxpayers has to come from somewhere - and as many economists have pointed out, that wealth-redistribution characteristic is a reason why this package isn't a good "stimulus."
"A 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," wrote Rea S. Hederman, Jr., assistant director and senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. "While 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."
CBS's Katie Couric and NBC's Brian Williams also welcomed the news. They lauded it because it was a "bipartisan" effort and thus treating that as a net positive.
"Well, it's not quite a done deal yet, but it looks like many of you will be getting a rebate check from Uncle Sam," Couric said on the January 24 "Evening News." "In the biggest show of bipartisanship since 9/11, President Bush and the House leadership reached agreement today on an economic stimulus package."
"[T]he threat of a recession in this country is just dire enough to have brought both parties together in Washington," Williams said on the January 24 "Nightly News." "They'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, it's what Americans choose to do with that money that will then affect the U.S. economy or not."
None of the networks attempted to explain where this $100 billion in checks will come from.