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How U.S. Economic Stimulus Can Be Put on Autopilot

Sunrise in New York City

Photographer: Gary Hershorn/Corbis News/Getty Images

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Sensors can turn your porch light on as night falls and off when the sun rises, without any intervention by you. Government relief programs can be automated in a similar way. Some Democratic lawmakers are pushing to add so-called automatic stabilizers to President Joe Biden’s stimulus proposals working their way through Congress. The idea is to enact spending measures that kick in as economic conditions deteriorate -- now or in future downturns -- and fade out as things improve.

The U.S., on balance, has weaker automatic stabilizers than many other advanced economies. But their appeal has grown as Democrats, in particular, have grown frustrated by the repeated standoffs over temporary pandemic relief measures.