Tracking the Stimulus (Part I)

In her recent speech about the impact of the stimulus effort, Christina Romer, Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, noted that “as of the end of June, more than $100 billion had been spent.”

If you visit the government web site tracking the stimulus (, however, it will tell you that the government had paid out only about $60 billion by July 3. (You can find this figure in the chart at the lower right hand corner of the home page.)

Why does Christi report a figure so much larger than the one reported on the official website? Because isn’t tracking all of the budget effects of the stimulus.

Christi’s figure includes the $60 billion of spending reported on plus an internal estimate, prepared by Treasury, of the tax reductions resulting from the stimulus effort through June 24. Those tax reductions are obviously a big deal, totaling $40 billion or slightly more through the end of June.

Based on conversations with friends and journalists, I get the sense that some users of do not realize that its figures cover only the spending side of the stimulus story, not the tax side.

As a result, I think is (unintentionally) confusing people into thinking that the stimulus effort to date is smaller than it has actually been.

I have two suggestions for how to fix this:

Step 1: Reduce Confusion: should slap a warning label on the home page chart (and everywhere else it reports aggregate figures) that says something like: “These figures reflect only the new Federal spending that has resulted from the recovery act. The act also included significant tax reductions that aren’t reflected here.”

Step 2: Provide the Information: Of course, it would be even better if Treasury would release official estimates of the week-by-week or month-by-month tax reductions flowing from the recovery act. These figures would obviously be estimates — and thus not able to be audited to the same degree as the spending programs — but would be invaluable to analysts trying to track the impact of the stimulus effort.

P.S. As I noted last week, the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the total budget impact of the stimulus effort reached about $125 billion through the end of July.

About Donald Marron 294 Articles

Donald Marron is an economist in the Washington, DC area. He currently speaks, writes, and consults about economic, budget, and financial issues.

From 2002 to early 2009, he served in various senior positions in the White House and Congress including: * Member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) * Acting Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) * Executive Director of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee (JEC)

Before his government service, Donald had a varied career as a professor, consultant, and entrepreneur. In the mid-1990s, he taught economics and finance at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He then spent about a year-and-a-half managing large antitrust cases (e.g., Pepsi vs. Coke) at Charles River Associates in Washington, DC. After that, he took the plunge into the world of new ventures, serving as Chief Financial Officer of a health care software start-up in Austin, TX. After that fascinating experience, he started his career in public service.

Donald received his Ph.D. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his B.A. in Mathematics a couple miles down the road at Harvard.

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