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Glenn Beck: Debit cards for everyone!

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  • Glenn Beck says economics and ideology go hand in hand
  • Debit cards with an expiration date give people 3-6 months to 'use it or lose it'
  • Tax rebate checks will cost billions and there's no guarantee they'll be spent
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By Glenn Beck
CNN
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Editor's note: A version of Glenn Beck's commentary originally appeared last Sunday in the New York Daily News. "Glenn Beck" is on Headline News nightly at 7 and 9 ET.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- When it comes to our economy, politicians on both sides of the aisle are quick to say that a stimulus package shouldn't have anything to do with political ideology. But while that's nice in theory, it's impossible in practice because economics and ideology go hand in hand.

Glenn Beck

"Debit cards also would have another big benefit over rebate checks: a deadline," says Beck.

Show me an economist who thinks that giving tax rebate checks to our poorest citizens is the best idea and I'll show you two economists who say that business tax cuts provide the most bang for the buck. Show me a statistic that proves stimulus packages keep an economy out of recession and I'll show you two that prove they do nothing but stimulate the deficit.

It reminds me of that old saying, "statistics don't lie, but liars use statistics" because, when it comes to the economy, almost everyone is a liar. People simply find the statistics and studies that prove their economic plan is the right one. It's just a coincidence how that plan happens to match up nicely with their own political ideology.

The stimulus package awaiting the President's signature is no different. Instead of spending weeks having ideological debates about whether the rich or poor, individuals or businesses are more likely to spend their rebate checks, our politicians should instead have been focusing on finding a way for it not to matter.

And I have one.

After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA needed to get money to victims fast, so they tried something new. Instead of issuing checks, they issued $2,000 emergency debit cards for evacuees to use for food, water, and supplies.

As you probably remember, 2005 wasn't exactly a banner year for FEMA. Along with food and water, some hurricane evacuees also bought Louis Vuitton purses, diamonds, and even breast implants. That caused major embarrassment for the government (at a time when they weren't exactly in the market for any more of it) and the debit card program was scrapped.

But while purchasing frivolous items may not have been what FEMA was hoping for, it's exactly what the government is hoping for now. Frivolous items have far higher profit margins than boring necessities like food and water, and it's that profit that will (at least in theory) trickle down to help create more jobs and eventually stimulate economic growth.

Debit cards also would have another big benefit over rebate checks: a deadline. One major concern about the checks is how much time it will take for the IRS to issue them (they're a little busy processing 140 million tax returns right now), then for people to cash them and eventually for that money to be spent. But all of those problems could be avoided by issuing debit cards with an expiration date. Give people three or six months to use up the value of the card and, after that, it's worthless. Use it or lose it.

Just so we're clear, I actually hate this idea. I believe the government should stay out of the way and let the markets correct themselves. I also happen to think that the only economy that will benefit from this package is China's. But let's face it: the stimulus ship has sailed and I hate this idea a lot less than the one that was just jammed through Congress.

Issuing tax rebate checks will not only cost us billions of dollars that we don't have, but there's absolutely no guarantee that the money will ever actually be spent. Issuing debit cards would also cost us billions of dollars, but at least we'd know that every single one of those dollars would be put back into the economy. And debit cards also have the advantage of looking exactly like credit cards, which will reinforce the behavior that got us into this mess in the first place.

It's win-win! Or, is it lose-lose?

Debit cards come with one other benefit as well: we wouldn't have to debate who's more likely to spend them, because it wouldn't matter. If they're not spent, they cost us nothing. That means neither party will have to needlessly grandstand in front of the television cameras about how they're fighting for [insert political base here] -- and that's also exactly why an idea like this was likely never even considered.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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