Felicia Muftic " GOP shuns stimulus package at its peril
Grand County, Colorado
Republicans in Congress were sitting on the proverbial horns of a dilemma this past week, and it must have hurt. On one hand, they were trying to carve a position that was true to their historic ideology of less government and lower taxes while they read the polls and knew that nearly 70 percent the American people are pulling for President Obama to succeed. Here is how they resolved that dilemma: They stuck by their ideological guns, ignored the polls, and delivered the president a raspberry salute.
Obama was not kidding when he promised to reach across the aisle. He did it physically early last week when he went to meet House Republicans on their own turf. I do not recall a president every going to that effort. The usual modus is to call in party leaders to the Oval Office to rally support on a piece of legislation. In spite of Obama’s bending over backwards, Wednesday afternoon Republicans and bipartisanship went down in flames with nary a Republican vote in favor of the stimulus plan.
President Obama scored a major victory by getting his plan through the House in eight days flat and he appeared reasonable and conciliatory in doing it. Republicans looked like Quixote on a futile quest. They knew they were going to lose, but they tilted at windmills nevertheless.
So why did Obama even bother to listen to Republicans? After all, he knew he had the votes all along. Other than to make good on a campaign promise to be bipartisan, we can speculate on several good reasons: 1) to win the Senate vote on the plan coming up this week where Democrats have a smaller margin; 2) to find areas of agreement which could be incorporated in the bill that will result in more Republican support when differences in the House and Senate versions are worked out; and 3) to pave the way with good will, hoping for some Republican support in the future for legislation that will be even more expensive and more controversial than the stimulus plan.
What is in this Democratic stimulus proposal for you and Colorado? Here is what is at stake.
The state of Colorado is losing tax revenue as our economy spirals downward and we have a serious budget shortfall. However, state statutes require us to have a balanced budget. To balance the budget, Gov. Ritter is proposing to cut K-12 educational funding by $125 million, reduce charter school capital construction and full day kindergarten expansion. Higher education will get $100 million less and Medicaid provider rates and reimbursement obligations will by cut by $150 million. Children’s Basic Health Plan Plus outreach efforts will be suspended and funding will be reduced by $19.3 million. Property tax relief for seniors via the Homestead Act is to be suspended for three years. The state is threatening to cut hospital services, teachers, and other state workers if the economy continues to worsen.
Here is what the House Republicans voted against Wednesday. According to the Denver Post, the Obama stimulus plan as currently constituted would put $2.9 billion into Colorado. About $226 million would build new schools, $408 million would train workers, $412 million would go for Colorado’s highways and bridges. The state would get $855 million to offset Medicaid costs and permit unemployed to get Medicaid. The budget cuts would be reversed. Teachers would not be laid off and charter schools would be able to build facilities without reducing their teachers’ salaries.
All of this is in addition to money for Pell grants to send kids to college without burdening them with debt and devastating the household budgets of their parents.
Those of you in Grand County who are hanging on for highway jobs, teachers who are fearing layoffs, contractors and tradesmen who would like to build the schools, and parents who cannot figure out how to send their kids to college, take note.
Instead of direct government spending, Republicans wanted us to rely on additional tax breaks, over and beyond the 15 percent reduction already included in the Obama plan, to provide jobs and relief in these hard times. Their alternative small proposal was consistent with their ideology of small government and small taxes. Most likely the results would have been small as well, since most economists think that even Obama’s plan is too modest given the size of the economic hole we are in.
Expect the Democrats to drag Republicans kicking and screaming to the compromise table as the stimulus plan is considered by the Senate this week. President Obama seems determined to listen to Republicans’ ideas whether they like it or not and wherever it is possible, to include some in his stimulus legislation. Like ballroom dancing, bipartisanship takes two to participate, and the invitation has been extended.
Senate Republicans have a choice: Accept the invitation or continue to view the legislative process through their ideologically colored glasses.
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