N.Y. Mayor tears into rebate checks

February 14, 2008 2:39:14 PM PST
Mayor Michael Bloomberg ridiculed the federal government's rebate check plan. He said it is "like giving a drink to an alcoholic" on Thursday, and said the presidential candidates are looking for easy solutions to complex economic problems.

The billionaire and potential independent presidential candidate also said the nation "has a balance sheet that's starting to look more and more like a third-world country."

President Bush signed legislation Wednesday that will result in cash rebates ranging from $300 to $1,200 for more than 130 million people. The federal checks are the centerpiece of the government's emergency effort to stimulate the economy, under the theory that most people will spend the money right away.

But Bloomberg does not believe it will do much good. And his harsh words at a news conference Thursday reflect the view among some of his associates that the country's economic woes present a unique opportunity for him to launch a third-party bid for the White House.

The theory among those urging him to run for president is that a businessman who rose from Wall Street to build his own financial information empire might be particularly appealing as the fiscal crisis worsens.

Publicly, Bloomberg says he is "not a candidate," and explained recently he is speaking out on national issues as part of an "experiment" to influence the dialogue in the race.

His tirade against the candidates and the economic stimulus package on Thursday began when he was asked how that experiment is going.

In his answer, he praised Democrat Barack Obama for the plan the Illinois senator outlined on Wednesday that would create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to rebuild highways, bridges, airports and other public projects. Obama projects it could generate nearly 2 million jobs.

Last month, Bloomberg and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania announced a coalition that would urge more investment in infrastructure.

"I don't know whether Senator Obama looked to see what I've been advocating, or not - you'll have to ask him - but he's doing the right thing," Bloomberg said.

But then the mayor went on to say that while the presidential candidates appear to be talking more about the economy now, they are looking for quick fixes to please voters instead of focusing on the roots of the problem.

"Nobody wants to sit there and say, 'Well there's no easy solution,"' Bloomberg said. "They want to send out a check to everybody to stimulate the economy. I suppose it won't hurt the economy but it's in many senses like giving a drink to an alcoholic."

A spokesman for the mayor said later that Bloomberg was trying to say Washington can't stop itself from spending, and was not insinuating that Americans who receive checks are part of the problem.

The mayor last month said the economic stimulus package was shortsighted, and presented his own views on where the federal government should be focusing its attention. Specifically, he said the government should adopt a capital budget to oversee long-term infrastructure spending, instead of the current year-to-year spending.

It should also offer financial counseling, modified loans, and in some cases, subsidized loans to homeowners who find themselves unable to afford their mortgages.

He says that the government should also think differently about immigration, and that bringing more workers in rather than keeping them out is the key to long term economic stability.


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