New Stimulus for Economy May Arrive by Christmas
Another somewhat conventional measure is spending on infrastructure—buildings, roads and bridges—but its inclusion is less certain, even if Stoyer included it in his list.
Skeptics say it is likely to end up in the package because of strong lobbying efforts, even if such spending measures tend to have a flash-in-the-pan impact.
Congressional leaders are said to support infrastructure spending if it is for existing projects, such as ones that have been delayed, rather than new ones. Nevertheless, some are talking about ambitious new spending in the form of energy investment or a public-works program.
Among the more unusual and untested measures are tax credits for business to hire workers and a one-time allowance for the withdrawal of money from a 401(k) retirement account without the normal stringent tax penalties.
Democratic presidential candidate Barrack Obama happens to support versions of both ideas.
Critics say undoing policies to encourage savings, particularly in a country that has a problem saving, is unsound and could set a bad precedent. But its inclusion in the policy debate underscores the something-for everyone approach that is seeping into the process.
Obama may feel more pressure to do that than others.
"He has big government constituencies that believe the government is capable of everything," says Schatz.
Observers say there’s a chance a lame-duck Congress will pass a small package in the weeks ahead, leaving a bigger package to a new congress and president in January.
The House already signed off on a $60 billion measure, which could be sent to the Senate for approval. Something of that size would almost certainly be signed by President Bush, who—along with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke—has become receptive to a second package.
Schatz thinks such a package would also suit the agenda of Congressional Republicans.
Sen. Robert Bennett, who told CNBC Wednesday that he hasn't "had any conversations with my colleagues on it," expressed doubt that some of the measures "stimulate consumer spending."
"If the Republicans are smart, they'll agree to something in the lame duck session," he says, because it will be smaller than any package in the new Congress..
By that time, however, the recession—by one general measure—will be a year old and probably deeper than today with the unemployment headed to 7 percent, leaving Congress vulnerable to criticism it delayed staving off some of the pain.
Bixby isn't ruling out a package after the expected return of Congress later this month and another in February, after the inauguration.
"Congress likes stimulus bills, so having a stimulus bill come up every few months is fine with them," he says.
Under that scenario, the package could be tied to a housing rescue plan, a reworking of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which provided bailout capital for financial firms, or even a standard appropriations bill.
Some on Wall Street are reconciled to a flurry of spending.
"I believe we'll have hundreds of billions of stimuli," complained Walter Gerasimowicz, founder, Meditron Asset Management.