An $850 Billion Challenge

Monday, December 22, 2008

The economic stimulus bill that Congress is set to begin debating next month could reach $850 billion or more, according to congressional aides, dwarfing every massive government expenditure in the past century except World War II. Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said yesterday that a huge economic stimulus plan is necessary to keep "the economy from absolutely tanking." In a television appearance, he said the stimulus package "has to be bold; it has to be big."

The boldness of the economic rescue is already straining the government's finances. The nation's deficit is hurtling toward the $1 trillion mark for the first time, prompting concern about the short-term impact of an expanded stimulus package. Here is the cost for some of the top government spending projects in inflation-adjusted terms and actual dollars. Though most of the earlier projects cost less than the stimulus plan, they made up a larger share of the economy because of the U.S. economy's rapid growth in recent decades.


World War II: $3.6 trillion

Actual cost: $290 billion in 1945, excluding $50 billion lend-lease

Vietnam War: $698 billion

$111 billion in the 1960s

Iraq War: $597 billion

$551 billion from 2003 to 2008

Korean War: $454 billion

$54 billion in the 1950s


$425 billion

$58 billion in 1957 for 42,700 miles

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