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Senators Stick by 2009 Stimulus

Senate GOP leaders may be trying to cast the president’s latest jobs proposal as another “failed” stimulus measure, but not all Senate Republicans agree that the 2009 government spending spree was such a political disaster.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are sticking by their votes in favor of the original Obama stimulus from two years ago, and both Republicans said last week that the law created jobs, though it could have been more effective.

“I don’t think [the stimulus] failed. Virtually every study I have seen has given the stimulus credit for the creation of between 1.3 million and 5 million jobs,” Collins said.

“I think people forget that more than a third of the stimulus was spent on tax relief,” she continued. “I have always wondered why that has gotten lost in the debate.”

“Nevertheless, I believe the stimulus would have been far more effective if the money had gone for infrastructure, and that is what I advocated,” Collins said.

Snowe also said the 2009 stimulus had merit in preventing the economy from collapsing and created jobs in some areas of the economy but not in others.

“Nobody in 2009 was arguing against a stimulus,” she said.

As Snowe sees it, the stimulus was supposed to give the private sector a breather from the economic downturn.

But it didn’t exactly work out that way. She blamed big-government solutions to issues, such as the president’s push for a health care reform law, for impeding private-sector rejuvenation.

She added that the administration and Congress didn’t pursue the issues that would have been important for reinvigorating the economic environment to be conducive for capital investments, hiring more people and creating the overall conditions for economic growth.

Besides Collins and Snowe, many Republicans have touted stimulus-funded projects in their districts or states, even though Collins, Snowe and then-Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) were the only Republicans to vote for the measure.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has set out to draw a parallel between the 2009 stimulus — which he contends failed to boost the economy and added to the deficit — with the president’s new $447 billion jobs plan to increase infrastructure spending, preserve teacher and first-responder jobs, and extend the payroll tax cut, among other proposals to create or save jobs.

Republicans have also latched onto the recent bankruptcy of Solyndra, a Fremont, Calif., solar panel maker, which received $535 million in Department of Energy loan guarantees that were funded through the stimulus. The FBI raided Solyndra’s headquarters Sept. 8 as part of an investigation with the DOE’s inspector general.

“More money was lost on Solyndra than came to my state to fix roads and bridges out of the entire stimulus package last year,” McConnell said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

On the floor last week, McConnell hit the point hard: “The president’s solution is to demand another Washington stimulus bill because the first one worked out so well. The first stimulus is a national punch line.”

Most Republicans argue that the stimulus, which the Congressional Budget Office in August said cost $825 billion over 10 years, did little to prevent the historically high level of unemployment, which hit 9.1 percent last month, or boost economic growth.

“Two and a half years after the president signed the first stimulus, there are 1.7 million fewer jobs in this country,
1.7 million fewer jobs after borrowing and spending $825 billion to create them,” McConnell said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said last week, “Going down a path of more spending, higher taxes and more debt — which is what we got with the first stimulus bill — is not the solution.”

Collins and Snowe, who are known for their willingness to compromise across the aisle and buck their leadership, played key roles in passing the stimulus package in February 2009.

They were two of the three GOP votes that Democrats — who at the time controlled the House, Senate and White House — needed to get the bill through the Senate and to the president’s desk. The bill passed the Senate, 60-38, just clearing the filibuster-proof threshold.

During the runup to passage, Collins met with Obama and worked with other centrist Senators, including Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), to cut about $100 billion in spending from the plan, which at that point was more than $900 billion, in order to get it in a form that would draw bipartisan support.

Specter, the third Republican, was facing re-election in 2010 and switched parties in April 2009. His party switch was seen, in part, to be the result of his vote for the stimulus, which most Republicans saw as a betrayal. Specter was ultimately defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary by then-Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.).

At the time that the stimulus passed, Sen. John McCain crystallized Republicans’ thinking on their colleagues joining with Democrats in comments on the Senate floor.

“Many of my colleagues are claiming that the ‘compromise bipartisan bill’ that is before us is a product and result of serious negotiations, and it is neither,” the Arizona Republican said without naming the Senators. “It is neither bipartisan nor is it a compromise. It is not bipartisan in that three Republican Senators, after not a single Republican Member of the other body, the House of Representatives, plus 11 Democrats voted against this legislation.”

“So it is not ‘bipartisan,’” McCain said. “To say otherwise belies history.”

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