Will Washington's Stimulus Plan Work?

Washington is gearing up to spend hundreds of billions to boost the economy. Will it work?

Illustration by Harry Campbell for TIME

If you had quizzed economists on the topic a decade ago, most would have told you that passing legislation to stimulate the economy was pointless. Getting the timing right was too hard. Increasing the deficit could bring higher interest rates that would stifle growth. Besides, the Federal Reserve, with its legions of smart economists and ability to make quick changes in monetary policy, was in a far better position to battle downturns than Congress was.

Times sure have changed. Fiscal stimulus is Topic A in Washington. Congress is returning for a lame-duck session with plans to pass a...