Saturday, 25 May 2024

Stimulus bill passes Congress as debate rages on about package's merits

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's congressman said Friday that the economic stimulus bill will benefit not just the nation by the North Coast in the effort to get the sluggish economy revitalized. {sidebar id=122}

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) spoke with a group of North Coast journalists Friday, shortly before the House of Representatives voted 246 to 183 to pass the updated version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), which will spend $787 billion on the nation's recovery.

But the bill didn't meet the approval of Republicans and wasn't unanimously accepted among all Democrats in Congress.

 

In the House, no Republicans voted for the bill, and seven Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against it, with one Democrat not voting at all.

The bill had passed through a conference committee to work out the differences between previously approved versions of the bill that had passed through the House and Senate.

On Friday evening, the Senate also approved the updated version of the bill on a vote of 60 to 38. There were three Republicans who voted for it, with unanimous support from Senate Democrats.

Thompson, who would cast his aye vote a short time after the teleconference, said the bill is designed to jump-start the economy through a variety of measures – tax benefits for families and small businesses, substantial investment in infrastructure and innovation, and job creation.

It's important to move quickly, he said. “We've got a situation where the economy is hemorrhaging jobs – thousands of jobs – as we speak.”

The stimulus bill is supposed to create three to four million jobs, give $116 billion in tax cuts to 95 percent of working families and shift the economy to a basis of renewable energy through $50 billion in new funding and tax incentives, according to Thompson. Another $110 billion would repair and modernize roads, bridges, transit and waterways.

“It helps California a lot,” he said.

The state stands to receive $26 billion from the recovery package, to be used for everything from roads and bridges to upgrading schools, Thompson explained.

A bill analysis found it will create 400,000 jobs in California and 8,000 just in his district alone.

Thompson's district includes Lake, Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Napa counties, and portions of Sonoma and Yolo counties. Of those, the most recent unemployment report, which covers December 2008, has Lake with the highest unemployment, 13.1 percent, an 11-year high, as Lake County News has reported.

“We need to do this and we need to do it quick,” he said.

Thompson helped draft key energy tax provisions, including a new investment tax credit for facilities to manufacture green technologies in America rather than shipping those manufacturing jobs overseas.  The provisions also will provide grants to incentivize businesses to invest in renewable technology today, rather than waiting until the economy improves.

He also was able to secure several key provisions in the final stimulus bill that will make crucial investments in green energy technology and led efforts to provide $4.6 billion in critical funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which he said was left out of the original bill, prompting him to write to President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The provisions he authored would make it easier for state and local governments to finance the purchase of solar systems and will have access to $2.4 billion in new energy conservation bonds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill includes $287 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses, which Thompson said accounted for 38-percent of the bill.

Projects Thompson listed that would be important for his North Coast district include work on the Sacramento Delta levee system and the silted-in Crescent City Harbor in Del Norte, as well as the Napa River, which flooded in late December 2005 and early January 2006 and caused more than $115 million in damage to Napa and the surrounding communities.

Thompson, who said he went to each of the counties in his district to ask them for a list of “shovel-ready” projects, didn't have a current list of projects that would take place in Lake County, but he'll work with the county on such a list.

County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Cox said Friday that local officials don't yet know how the county may benefit from the package.

For the folks on Main Street, there will be a reduction in capital gains tax on the sale of small businesses, businesses would be eligible for new vehicle sales tax deductions, and individuals also will be assisted in purchasing solar energy equipment.

Individual taxpayers could see up to $400 in tax cuts on their tax bill, or $800 for couples, said Thompson. Anyone subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is set to expire – about 28 million people nationwide, or 50,000 people in the First Congressional District – would see tax relief.

The bill also includes $7.2 billion to expand broadband Internet access in rural and underserved areas.

“It's real short in regard to what we need,” Thompson said.

That money will be spent in a few ways, he explained. For one, it will be used to expand broadband in rural areas where it's already used. It also will be installed in areas where it isn't already present.

“It's certainly good for rural America, that's where the holes are,” said Thompson. “It will help our district a lot.”

He and Rep. Anna Eschoo, a Bay Area colleague in California's Congressional Delegation, both wanted to see more done on behalf of broadband expansion in the bill, but there wasn't enough room to add the money needed.

Thompson said he and Eschoo plan to soon introduce legislation that would use bond funding to continue the broadband expansion effort.

Republicans maintain skepticism on stimulus package

Speaking on the floor of the House Friday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) spoke against the stimulus bill, saying that the GOP's economic recovery plan would create twice as many jobs at half the cost as the Democrats' plan.

“When you look at some of the spending in this bill, it will do nothing about creating jobs in America,” Boehner said. “Tell me spending $50 million for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio? Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district.”

He also criticized passage of the bill when he said that not one member of the House had time to read all 1,100 pages before the vote.

Boehner said Republicans have been excluded from the process altogether, and their ideas about how to solve the crisis were ignored.

US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) spoke against the bill on the Senate floor Friday.

“This isn’t Monopoly money. It’s real. It adds up – and it has to be paid back, by our children and by their children. And the American people still don’t have the facts about the total cost,” he said.

McConnell said it isn't timely, targeted or temporary, three critical points that he said the president's own top economist outlined for the stimulus.

The bill contains an extraordinary sum of money that deserves an extraordinary level of scrutiny, McConnell said, adding that it's laden with pork, including $300 million for new government cars, $50 million for out-of-work artist and $165 million to maintain and build fish hatcheries.

Thompson dismissed such criticisms. “The Republicans have had every opportunity to participate in this,” he said. “I don't think there's been any shortage of effort in trying to work with Republicans.”

The American people want members of Congress to work together, said Thompson.

He contrasted the president's bipartisan efforts with those employed by the previous administration, recalling a meeting between the Blue Dog Coalition – a group of moderate and conservative Democrats, of which Thompson is a member – and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thompson said Cheney told the group, “You all seem like nice guys, but we don't need you.”

Arguments over waste

Thompson also challenged the assertions that the bill is filled with pork and earmarks.

“There aren't any earmarks that jump out at me,” said Thompson. “The president has said that he didn't want any earmarks in the bill.”

An analysis of the House version of the bill by FactCheck.org found it essentially earmark-free, although the Senate version contained several items that could be considered pork – such as $198 million in benefits for Filipino veterans and $500 million for National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Md. (For the full analysis, see FactCheck.org: A look at claims about the stimulus bill.)

Still, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste issued a statement Thursday urging Congress to vote against the stimulus bill.

“The compromise bill yielded little improvement for taxpayers,” said council President Tom Schatz. “In exchange for a paltry extra $13 a week in tax relief, Congress is saddling American families with thousands of dollars a month in new spending obligations and huge interest payments on the national debt going forward indefinitely.”

Schatz said there were no efforts to address the mismanaged and unnecessary  programs that waste billions of dollars every year.

Not everyone in Congress is perfectly happy with the bill, Thompson said. “You can put me on that list.”

He wasn't, for example, happy to see a $15,000 first-time homebuyer credit in the House's original version of the bill reduced to $8,000 in the final version. The first bill also included stronger language on school construction, which he said was a deal breaker for some in the Senate who didn't think anything should be done in the way of building new school facilities.

However, Thompson said, “There's enough in this bill to like.”

On Saturday, President Obama said he plans to sign the bill shortly.

Obama said the money must be spent “unprecedented accountability, responsibility and transparency.” he said he's asked his cabinet and staff “to set up the kind of management, oversight, and disclosure that will help ensure that, and I will challenge state and local governments to do the same.”

Soon to be launched is a new Web site, www.recovery.gov, which will allow Americans to see where the money is going and to offer comments and ask questions, said the president.

“Ultimately, this is your money, and you deserve to know where it’s going and how it’s spent,” he said.

Obama said he plans to introduce a proposal that involves restoring discipline to the federal budgeting process.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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