What kind of stimulus package is needed that would help working families? One that creates good jobs and ensures workers and their neighbors can pay their house or car note, buy groceries, fill up their gas tanks or make college tuition payments?
On Capital Hill, with unemployment jumping to 5 percent in December, and other indicators of major economic illness, lawmakers are starting to consider stimulus ideas.
President Bush and fellow Republicans want to pump $150 billion into tax cuts and government spending geared to big business interests and the wealthy.
But labor and other progressive groups say the key is putting money into the hands of working people. It's working people who are the nation's consumers. They can spur the economy if they have the income to buy what they need.
The AFL-CIO and others are calling for extending jobless benefits beyond the current 26 weeks. The labor federation also calls for:
• increased food stamp benefits;
• tax rebates targeted to middle- and lower-income taxpayers,
• fiscal relief for state and local governments;
• immediate investment in school renovations and bridge repair.
Many of these measures are contained in proposals being advanced by Democrats in Congress.
Communist Party USA head Sam Webb underscored the importance of these steps, but said more is also needed.
In addition to extending jobless benefits, the amounts unemployed workers receive should be raised, and paid until a worker finds a job, he said in a phone interview this week. "Social Security benefits also should be raised."
Webb also called for an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and a freeze on interest rates, and an end to the Iraq war, "freeing up billions of dollars for people's needs."
Webb, elected the party's chair in 2000, has a Masters degree in economics. But he considers his main credentials to be his activism in the labor movement and people's struggles over the past few decades.
"People are hurting," he said. "Unemployment is rising, and even those figures cover up the long-term joblessness in different parts of the country and among different communities," he said. "Wages are stagnant and now you have the mortgage crisis."