You gotta hand it to soccer moms

November 06, 2001|By Susan Reimer

MY HUSBAND likes to tell this story of his gall bladder surgery.

He was lying on a gurney outside the operating room, slipping ever deeper into anesthetized sleep, when he felt someone flip the sheet off his legs.

"Is this the guy with the knee? Which knee is it?" he heard someone ask.

My husband likes to say that he clawed his way back to consciousness just in time to force out these important words.

"I'm not the guy with the knee. I'm the guy with the gall bladder. The guy with the knee is over there."

The good news is, my husband awoke in the recovery room without his infected gall bladder. And presumably the guy next to him in the hall that morning has a new knee.

The bad news is, our lawmakers are about to make the same mistake, and no one is awake enough to stop them.

Congress is about to pass an urgently needed economic stimulus package, and President Bush is in such a hurry for it that it sounds like he will sign just about anything Congress sends over.

The problem with the measures now being discussed is that they will be fixing things that don't need fixing. And the guy with the bad knee will still be limping when they are done.

Democrats want to expand the benefits for the newly unemployed and give tax breaks to their old friends, the poor.

Republicans want to give tax breaks to the suddenly struggling business sector as well as to their old friends, the very rich.

But if the purpose of an economic stimulus package is to get the economy revved up again, neither key fits the ignition.

There is nothing in either set of proposals that would put more money - fast - into the hands of the middle- and upper-middle-income consumer. And, in the immortal words of Reggie Jackson, the consumer is the straw that stirs this drink.

You want economic recovery? Fine. Here's what you do.

Put more money in the pockets of the women in this country.

Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of our gross domestic product and women make more than 80 percent of those spending decisions.

We pick the house. We pick the car. We furnish the house. We dress the kids. We buy the groceries. We do the Christmas shopping. We choose the family vacation spot. Heck, we pick his socks and underwear.

Give us some extra money, and we will spend it. So, put more money in the family paychecks by cutting withholding taxes right now. All Congress has to do is speed up the dependent credits that have already been approved, and we wives and mothers will shoot it back into the economy so fast Alan Greenspan's tie will spin.

If you give my company a tax break, I will never see a dime of it. Any employer is going to tuck that extra cash into his own back pocket to cushion his economic fall.

Cut the capital gains tax if you want, but nobody I know is selling stock to fuel consumer spending because that stock has been falling through the floor for a year.

Tax breaks for the poor and unemployment benefits are a generous thing to do in these tough times, but poor people and jobless people don't spend like middle-class women do. And neither do rich people, as a matter of fact.

If the members of Congress could follow a SUV-driving mother of three around for a week, they would understand that this economic crisis was not caused by falling stock prices. It wasn't even caused by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, although they certainly made things worse.

Soccer moms got the economic party started eight years ago by spending up a storm, and when we stopped spending to catch our breath (and to pay off our credit cards and boost our savings), the party was over.

If Congress wants to fix things, it should find a way to put more money in the pockets of American women. I personally guarantee that we will spend it.

Once we are finished clearing out back-up inventory, businesses will have to increase production and hire new workers just to keep up with us.

That's the only kind of trickle-down economics that will work: the kind that starts with women and trickles down to business.

Certainly the poor and unemployed need help during this recession. My husband could have used a new knee, too.

And businesses will need tax incentives to wake them out of their doldrums. That other guy would never have missed his gall bladder.

But with the president and the Congress in such a hurry to do something, somebody has to make sure they do the right thing.

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