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Forum Editorial Board, Published March 10 2009

Forum editorial: Risks in stimulus significant

Public opinion polls suggest Americans have become selective about what they like and dislike in President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package. General sentiment seems to turn on how one perceives the benefits. Partisans condemn the big-government tilt behind the stimulus, but then grudgingly have their hands out like everyone else.

The stimulus is so big (not big enough, say some analysts) that the nation will face huge deficits for generations. When the economy rebounds, the enormous debt could be a major contributor to inflation, which, in effect, is a tax on everyone. The long-term fallout from an unprecedented imbalance in the nation’s books can’t be known, but likely will be negative.

Still, the immediate problem is the continued collapse of major sectors of the economy. The stimulus is supposed to halt the collapse, restore confidence to consumers and in the financial markets, and begin to reverse the slide. Money will start arriving in the states within days, the expectation being the states will spend the money rapidly in areas mandated by the federal legislation and for other purposes where states have some discretion.

Other than a few partisan hard-headed governors, state officials are welcoming the money. Some states need it more than others. Minnesota, for example, is an economic basket case. North Dakota, on the other hand, would do just fine, thank you, without the stimulus money. But even the Republican governors of the two states know an opportunity when they see it.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, doing his best potential presidential candidate shtick, railed against the stimulus, but is taking the money. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven is not an enthusiastic fan of the stimulus, but along with legislative leaders has worked it into the state’s budget planning.

All that money takes the edge off partisanship. All that green – for jobs, education, unemployment benefits, renewable energy development and health care – overwhelms Republican red.

That’s not to say the stimulus is the panacea for the nation’s economy. Frankly, no one knows. That uncertainty, that doubt feed Americans’ jitters. At this point, most seem willing to give the president and his program a chance. Most are ready to try an approach radically different from the past eight years.

God help us – and our children – if it doesn’t work.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board