WASHINGTON — Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said last year’s unpopular $700 billion Wall Street bailout serves as ample proof that government can’t be trusted with such massive sums of taxpayer money.
That’s why he voted against the $819 billion economic stimulus bill Wednesday.
“It’s just a bad idea with too much government growth,” Rep. Wamp said. “Going all the way back to last fall’s economic bailout, people have become agitated by Washington’s propensity to throw money at problems.”
Although all House Republicans voted against the bill, along with 11 Democrats, the package passed 244-188. The bill now moves to the Senate, which is likely to vote on it next week.
Rep. Wamp voted in favor of the Wall Street rescue plan after initially opposing it and said he has regretted his “yes” vote ever since.
“It didn’t work, it ended up being wrong, and we weren’t told the truth,” he said. “The administration handled it terribly. That should teach us that the government is ill-equipped to spend ($819) billion.”
The stimulus package, drafted by Democratic leaders and supported by President Barack Obama, includes $607 billion in spending, largely on highway and school construction, Medicaid relief for states, electricity grids and other infrastructure.
It also includes $212 billion in tax cuts that are designed to court GOP votes but failed, with Republicans criticizing the measure as far too expensive and expansive.
Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., voted “no” and said much of the bill involves spending on social programs.
“There could be a legitimate bill for a stimulus, but Republicans have always talked about the stimulative effect of tax cuts versus government spending,” he said. “It’s a philosophical divide between the parties.”
Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., who voted “yes,” said the package will help repair the country’s infrastructure and create jobs.
“As a fiscal conservative, I will be working to make sure that the final version of this legislation does exactly as it was intended: to put money back in the pockets of ordinary Americans and into needed infrastructure developments that will put Americans and our country back to work,” he said.
According to estimates, Tennessee stood to gain about $2.8 billion from the stimulus package, while Georgia could get $4.7 billion.
But Rep. Wamp, a 2010 candidate for Tennessee governor, said the bill is bad policy, even if it helps the state.
“We all need to look after our states, but our state balances the budget with no help from Washington,” he said. “Our state can survive without all this spending from Washington.”
Rep. Wamp also said an amendment he and Rep. Davis sought to include $25 million for the ash spill cleanup at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant likely will not be a part of the final bill. The congressmen said they sought the funding to ease the burden on ratepayers, but it was not supported by House leaders, who considered it an earmark.
“I’m not going to support the (stimulus) bill, so I’m not in a position to advocate anything be put in it,” Rep. Wamp said.
Rep. Davis, who also is mulling a gubernatorial run, said he would support the cleanup funding if it is included in other bills.
“Families affected by this accident need to know that they have the support of their representative,” he said.
Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said the stimulus vote on party lines may become a gubernatorial election issue, depending on how well the package actually helps the economy.
“The irony is, (Rep. Wamp) was trying to put a piece of pork into the bill he was going to vote against,” Dr. Oppenheimer said, referring to the cleanup money. “Both Wamp and Davis were probably just trying to play to their constituency, but it’s interesting that they could be opposing candidates for governor.”