President Obama and Congress must do more to make sure the $816 billion recession-fighting plan will deliver the most effective bang for all the borrowed bucks.
The Senate will take up the stimulus package this week, and there is plenty of room to improve it. The bill approved by the Democratic-controlled House would spend too much money on items that won't create jobs. Nor would it spend enough of the money immediately.
As the House bill stands, it would appropriate $356 billion to create jobs. But only 8 percent of that total, or $29 billion, would be spent between now and Sept. 30.
Less than half of it would be spent within two years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The pace is too timid to offset the flood of job losses that rises by the hour.
When the nation's governors met with Obama at Independence Hall in December, they identified $136 billion in "shovel-ready" public-works projects - those that could be started within 120 days. But the House bill would devote "only" $30 billion to repairing roads and bridges, $9 billion for public transit, and $1 billion for inner-city rail - less than 5 percent of the total.
Less than one-quarter of the highway money would go directly to cities, giving rise to the concern of Mayor Nutter and others that state legislatures would slow down the funding or divert it from metropolitan areas where usage is heaviest.
If Washington is going to ask future generations of taxpayers to foot the bill for today's massive recovery plan, a larger share of the money should be devoted to long-lasting investments in infrastructure. The need existed before the recession hit.
The sheer size of the debt to be heaped on future generations also requires that it be spent as wisely as possible. Obama's mantra is to find solutions that work, regardless of party labels. But there are plenty of examples in the House bill that have little if anything to do with turning around the economy.
Spending $335 million on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases is certainly an important public-health policy, but it's hard to see how it will boost the economy. How will spending $420 million to combat avian flu encourage consumers to do more shopping? Is this national emergency really the time to give $50 million to the National Cemetery Administration for "monument and memorial repairs"?
Nor is the Senate immune from adding dubious spending. Senators reportedly plan to add $1 billion for maintenance of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, and $200 million for border security fencing.
It was disappointing that not a single Republican in the House voted for the Democratic bill, considering the stakes and Obama's attempt to work with them. But it's unfair to portray the GOP as choosing party over country. They raise valid concerns about whether the spending will have an impact quickly, and whether more tax cuts should be included to spur consumer spending and job growth. Given the ineffectiveness of the earlier $700 billion federal bailout, lawmakers have a duty to be asking these questions.