Area senators join GOP chorus against stimulus

Area senators join GOP chorus against stimulus

February 6th, 2009 by Herman Wang in Local Regional News

WASHINGTON - As the Senate continued to wrangle Thursday with an economic stimulus package that topped $900 billion, senators from Tennessee and Georgia continued to protest the bill.

The stimulus, they said, contains too much wasteful spending and does not do enough to create jobs.

"The American people are asking, when will all this spending stop?" Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said during debate on the Senate floor. "The numbers are astronomical."

The Senate could vote today on the bill.

The Democratic-backed package, a priority of President Barack Obama, includes spending on highway and school construction, aid for states, electricity grids, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and other programs.

Projected stimulus impact:

* Job growth: 113,000 in Georgia and 75,000 in Tennessee

* Tax breaks: Up to $1,000 tax cut for each of nearly 3.4 million workers in Georgia and 2.4 million workers in Tennessee

* Jobless benefits: Extra $100 a week per worker in unemployment payments

* Highways: $613 million in extra money for Tennessee and $1 billion more for Georgia

* Health care: $701 million for TennCare in Tennessee and $742 million for Peachcare in Georgia

* K-12 education: $244 million for education in Tennessee, $454 million for Georgia

* Higher education: $2,500 tax credit for college

* Housing: Tax credits up to $15,000 for home purchases

* Energy: $18.5 billion for home weatherization and $50 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants

* Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Up to $300 million for new lab, hotel and infrastructure improvements

Source: White House projections

The House passed an $819 billion version of the package last week, with no Republicans voting in favor.

Mr. Obama had earlier called for bipartisan support of the package, but Senate Republicans, much like their House counterparts, have largely rejected those overtures, saying the bill is misguided, adds too much debt and would not stimulate the economy in a timely fashion.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, said he was "disappointed" by Democrats' unwilling to compromise.

"This bill ... is a colossal mistake for our country," Sen. Alexander said. "It is not temporary, it is not targeted, it is not primarily creating jobs, it is not a stimulus bill. It is mostly a spending bill. It is not money we have, it is money we're borrowing, and it's a huge amount of money."

Republicans offered several alternatives that would have cut the bill's size and emphasized tax cuts and housing aid, but none have gained much traction with Democrats, who say the proposals are not sufficient.

An amendment offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have set the package at $421 billion, was voted down Thursday.

Officials with the Obama administration said that, while the president was open to negotiating and had met with several Republicans throughout the week, wholesale changes to the package are unnecessary.

"When we talk about the size of the bill, we didn't pull a number out of a hat," said Melody Barnes, director of the administration's Domestic Policy Council. "We spoke to the best economists around the country about the (scale) that would be needed to create the stimulus necessary."

Ms. Barnes said the bill would help families in financial stress deal with the economic crisis through expanded unemployment benefits and food stamp allowances. The package would also create between 3 million to 4 million jobs within the next two years.

One Republican proposal included in the package is a $15,000 tax credit to homebuyers, which was offered by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Sen. Isakson, a former real estate broker, said the tax credit, which would cost $18 billion, would help fix the ailing housing market, which led to the current economic downturn.

"It is time to fix America's problem, not throw money at the symptoms," he said. "It is time to fix housing first."

Chattanooga Realtors applauded Sen. Isakson's proposal.

"I think it will help get some people off the fence and encourage them to buy," said Nickie Schwartzkopf, president of the Chattanooga Association of Realtors. "With interest rates as low as they are right now and the potential for up to $15,000 in tax credits, I think that has got to stimulate the market."

Last year, Congress provided first-time homebuyers a tax credit of up to $7,500, but those credits had to be paid back over time and generated only limited response, Ms. Schwartzkopf said.

Sen. Isakson's proposal would take the place of the $7,500 tax credit.

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.