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If other Americans are anything like U.S. troops stationed in Europe, a key part of the economic stimulus package proposed by the president and Congress could fall flat.

Hammered out last week, the package calls for tax rebates for average Americans ranging from $600 for individual taxpayers to $1,200 or more for families, as well as tax breaks for businesses.

The rebate portion of the stimulus “should increase consumer spending and lift our economy at a time when people otherwise might spend less,” President Bush said when he introduced his version of the plan Jan. 18.

The proposed stimulus rebate isn’t a given. The House of Representatives is still hashing out details of the stimulus, and the Senate might have its own ideas. The two bills will have to be reconciled in committee before heading to Bush’s desk for approval.

Most troops who were interviewed said they likely wouldn’t spend their rebate checks the way the president and Congress intended.

“I’d probably just throw it in the savings,” said Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Hickey, stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “It’s really not enough to buy any big-ticket item, go on vacation or anything like that.”

Hickey isn’t alone in his prudence.

Of the dozen troops Stars and Stripes spoke with, a third said they would either save or invest the money, and nearly half said they would use it to pay off existing debts, such as school loans or credit cards.

Spc. Eric Pendleton, stationed in Darmstadt, Germany, has racked up some $30,000 in education loans, and said he has to do what he can to pay that off. He couldn’t think of any incentive the government could give him to spend more money.

“At this point, (paying off debt) is pretty much my main concern,” he said.

A quarter of those interviewed said they might use their rebate money to pay bills, which, if they were stationed in the U.S., would fit into the president and Congress’ plans.

But it’s unlikely that money would make it back into the U.S. economy. For Europe-based troops, most recurring bills, such as those for phone, Internet service or other utilities, come from local providers.

Only three people interviewed said they would use the money for something that they hadn’t already bought or wasn’t a recurring expense. One person said he might take a trip with his wife, while a junior soldier said he’d get some much-needed car repairs. Another said she’d splurge.

“I hate to be the typical nonsaving soldier,” said Spc. Katelin Cairns, stationed in Darmstadt. “But,” she admitted, “I’d buy an Xbox 360.”

Everyone was asked what other incentives might spur them to spend more money. Among those who planned to save or invest the rebate, all but one person said they would bank it regardless of the incentive.

Hickey said that if the government reduced taxes — instead of issuing a shot-in-the-arm-style rebate — he might spend more.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas Darrohn, based in Naples, Italy, said he’d be encouraged to spend if the plan included discounts to servicemembers who shop in on-base stores.

While nobody said they didn’t want the money, Air Force Staff Sgt. Jerret Pierce at RAF Lakenheath, England, was pessimistic about the potential impact of the stimulus deal.

“This country’s so far in debt a little boost like that isn’t going to do anything major,” he said. “People are going to be happy about it, but in the long run it’s not going to do much.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Kent Harris, Sean Kimmons, Lisa Novak and Charlie Reed contributed to this story.


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