Commentary: Stimulus plan is key to our way of life

Trying to read the coffee grounds about our economic future turns up a lot of dark stuff swirling at the bottom of the cup, and this bittersweet reality: There's been a fundamental, mammoth shift in the American way.

Republicans in Congress call the $787 billion federal stimulus package "generational theft" that will sock it to our grandkids with a debt of more than $1 trillion.

Of course, they don't mention the debt created by fighting the wrong war in Iraq, but we need to add that tab to the bill, too.

Most Democrats say the stimulus package is an "investment" that will save the kiddies, with money for education, create "green" energy programs to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and prop up cash-starved state governments, with money to build roads, bridges and schools.

And here among the sniveling masses we hope one day and fear the next. Market's up, market nose-dives. Tax break's coming – well, not so much. Jobs will spring up, layoffs are next.

The American way of rugged independence (with a little help from government with Social Security and other safety-net programs) has morphed into the mindset of "what can government do for me – and pronto?"

I include myself in that pathetic mass of sniveling Americans who haven't a clue as to what really will work to rev up our sputtering economy and return us to the good old days. What's too much? Too little?

As an independent who sees the good, bad and ugly in each political party's economic theories, I've always supported free trade and having government run more like a business – but with the caveat that children, the disabled and the elderly must get their due in the world's most powerful economy.

Now that's all been put into question.

Our world has been turned upside down. We now owe billions to the Chinese who have bought much of our debt.

And the decade-old promises that free trade would help us all have served to drive down American wages in a global race to the cheapest Third World rates.

Gov. Charlie Crist has ticked off the conservative wing of the GOP for being too eager to embrace President Obama's spending plan, which emerged from the Senate last week with about $500 billion in government spending and $281 billion in tax cuts.

Republicans in Congress want more tax cuts, less spending on programs they believe aren't really job creators.

Republicans are right that much of the spending is not a job-creator. Rather, it's a "little people" saver. And right now, there are a lot of us in the "little people" category – unemployed or barely hanging on to our jobs.

The package would extend emergency unemployment compensation and help the unemployed afford COBRA health insurance for their families by having 65 percent of their premiums subsidized by taxpayers. It would increase the earned-income tax credit for working people who earn so little that theirs is not a living wage.

It would give seniors and the disabled $250 and reduce income taxes by $400 for individuals earning up to $75,000 a year or $800 for working couples earning $150,000. Parents of college students could get a credit of up to $2,500, depending on income, and those buying a new car could deduct the sales tax from their federal income tax.

What would such a plan do to help blue-collar workers in, say, Hialeah?

Mayor Julio Robaina of Hialeah noted on Radio Mambi last week that there are 10,000 unemployed people in his City of Progress, many of them construction workers.

Those laid-off workers will benefit the most from the stimulus, even if it doesn't contain as much money for construction projects as Robaina or U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart and other Florida Republicans hoped to bring back home.

In two years, when members of Congress are up for election, the theft vs. investment question may get settled. There are so many factors at work in this global economy that each side will make its claims.

But there's no question that a majority of Americans are worried about their jobs, worried about the future and looking to Obama to do something visionary.

Extending unemployment insurance, covering a big chunk of healthcare insurance and putting 3.5 million people to work on construction and technology jobs is short on vision but meets the basic needs of desperate people left jobless.

Crist seems to have taken the political pulse and seen more sugary white clouds in those coffee grounds.