stimulus bill


Since neither Ottawa Delivered nor The Times has U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union address posted on their websites, and Kinzinger is the U.S.  congressman who represents Ottawa, I’m going to post the freshman Republican legislator’s response here, courtesy of The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal’s daily newspaper)*:

“In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama made it clear that we must turn our focus squarely onto growing a competitive nation. The way to make our nation prosperous is by getting our neighbors back to work and ensuring our economy works for American families and businesses.

“The President made promising remarks about job creation, but the only action Americans have heard from Washington Democrats over the past two years is that more government spending and higher taxes are the only solutions to grow our economy and create jobs.

“The actions and decisions made by prior Congresses have led us to where we are today. Nearly one in 10 of our neighbors remain unemployed. Over the last two years unemployment has skyrocketed from 7.8 percent to 9.4 percent.

“In addition, our nation’s debt now exceeds $14 trillion. More than $3.3 trillion of this debt was piled on in just two years.

“We cannot continue down this slippery slope with the same failed policies that has led our nation to fewer jobs, more government spending and an intrusive expansion of government.

“As Ronald Reagan once said, ‘All great change in America begins at the dinner table.’

“This past November, American families, businesses, seniors and taxpayers sent a clear message to Washington. All across the nation, Americans chose the path toward limited government, reduced spending and a free-market system.

“We must quit spending more money than we take in and we must focus our efforts toward growing the private sector, where jobs are created. We have tough decisions to make but we can make them while living within our means.

“Earlier today, the House passed a budget resolution that would cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels. This, along with additional spending reforms, will ensure we continue to eliminate wasteful spending, and will force government to cut up their credit cards.

“House Republicans made a promise to the people to put our nation back on track towards fiscal responsibility, economic growth and accountable and transparent government, and this is a promise we intend to keep.

“We must promote and foster free enterprise here in America. Congress must work tirelessly to implement policies that encourage entrepreneurship, cultivate innovation and reward the hard work that will lead us toward prosperity.”

* I want to make clear that my posting of Kinzinger’s response doesn’t represent endorsement or rejection of his positions. It just bothers me that neither of Ottawa’s newspapers put the response on their websites, and I would have done so. It is important for constituents to know what their elected officials have to say about issues of the day.

Newspapers and magazines aren’t the only ones who must adapt or die these days. Politicians sometimes find themselves in a similar situation, as did U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced today he is defecting from the Republican Party to the Democratic side of the political aisle.

“As the Republican Party has moved farther and father to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party,” Specter, 79, said during a press conference.

There is truth in what Specter said, as he was a moderate member of the Republican caucus. He was one of only three Republican senators to vote in favor of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. But make no mistake, he switched political parties because there was a real chance he would lose the upcoming Republican primary for his U.S. Senate seat. Now he will run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“The bottom line is the Republican Party has become inhospitable to moderates,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CNN. “It was just very uncomfortable for Arlen Specter. He was being challenged on the right. When he did what he thought was principled, he was scorned by the overwhelming base of his party.”

As has been shown time and again since Barack Obama won the presidency last November, no one has been a bigger Republican base rallier than talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. He said this about the Specter defection: “A lot of people said, well Specter, take McCain with you, and his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you.”

Way to prove Specter’s point about the Republican Party being less inclusive, Limbaugh. Rip another moderate Republican senator, John McCain, and his outspoken daughter, Meghan McCain — who dares to call for a dialogue about the future of the Republican Party — while you’re angry about Specter. If the Republican Party continues to listen to the likes of Limbaugh, it deserves to fall apart.

With that said, I am slightly concerned about the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority the Democrats will have in the U.S. Senate if and when Al Franken is seated as Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator. I normally don’t think it is good for a single political party to be in charge of the White House and both congressional chambers. I suspect most people feel that way, and the Republicans will rise again as a result. But this may be a rare time when it is palatable for one political party to have control of both reins of the federal government. Desperate times demand clear, decisive leadership, and the GOP’s current modus operandi appears to be simple: oppose anything and everything suggested by Democrats. Things need to get done NOW to prevent the economic crisis from getting worse.

Incidentally, Specter said he “will not be an automatic 60th vote.” Good. I don’t want 60 rubber stamps running the U.S. Senate. Nor do the American people as a whole. But we do want consensus to be reached so things get done — not stonewalling tactics and opposition just for the sake of opposition. The stakes are too high to screw around.

President Obama reiterated this morning his plan to build a nationwide system of high-speed rail lines to ease congestion and modernize the transportation systems in some of the country’s most populated corridors.

“A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve,” Obama said. “High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion for high-speed rail projects and Obama requested an additional $1 billion a year for the next five years. I’m sure that sounds wasteful to the TEA Party protesters, but building a high-speed rail system is stimulus spending I support. Not only would a high-speed rail system create jobs and ease congestion, it would help roads last longer and reduce carbon dioxide emissions per passenger, making it environmentally friendly. Plus faster travel times encourage tourism by making it easier to go to further-away places, which sounds a lot like true economic stimulus spending to me.

There currently is only one high-speed rail line operating in the United States, between Boston and Washington, D.C.

* * *

The government identified 10 corridors of 100 to 600 miles in length with the greatest promise for high-speed rail development. They are:

— California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
— Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
— South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
— Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
— Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)
— Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
— Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)
— Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)
— Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
— Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

* * *

One more note from Obama’s news conference, as reported by The New York Times:

In making the announcement, the president was joined by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom Mr. Obama joshingly referred to as “America’s No. 1 train fan.”

In the Senate, Mr. Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his regular train use between Washington and his home in Delaware over decades and for his strong support for increased rail financing.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why The New York Times anally refers to the vice president as “Joseph R. Biden Jr.” but uses the hokey word “joshingly” in the same sentence.

It pays to be a top Bensenville administrator. And to be the village president’s son.

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that nine employees of the Chicago suburb received pay raises of 10 percent or more from 2007 to 2008. The largest percentage increase went to Ryan Geils, son of Bensenville Village President John Geils. Ryan Geils, a director of the village-owned and operated Edge Ice Arena, received a salary bump of 21 percent, from $49,500 to $60,000.

Additionally, Vincent English, supervisor of streets, received a 20.7 percent increase, from $65,986.96 to $79,647.87; Gary Thorsen, director of community events and special facilities, got a 19.86 percent raise, from $71,749.98 to $86,000; Village Manager Jim Johnson’s pay went up 14 percent, from $106,510.97 to $121,510.97; Assistant Village Manager Steve Marshall’s salary increased 12 percent, from $103,558 to $116,058; William Moreth, an Edge Ice Arena employee, received an 11 percent increase, from $45,000 to $50,000; Police Chief Frank Kosman’s pay went up 10.17 percent, from $98,324.93 to $108,324.93; former administrative employee Anna Hendry’s pay increased 10 percent, from $50,000 t0 $55,000; and Public Works Director Paul Quinn got a 10 percent raise, from $99,079.55 to $109,079.55.

The Tribune noted that most non-union village employees received far more modest cost-of-living increases.

Perhaps Bensenville will ask for bailout funds next, because it is spending money like a drunken sailor, despite a sour economy that helped put Illinois’ unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, a half-percentage point higher than the national rate. Sounds like something AIG would do, and Bensenville officials know it, judging by the way they tried to hide the pay raises from the public:

The raises were awarded in December and made retroactive to May 1, which meant employees received lump sum payments for about seven months’ worth of raises. [Village Manager Jim] Johnson said the practice is common for the village and that employees like it because it seems like a holiday bonus.

The raises came to light recently when an anonymous source leaked a confidential memo detailing them to the Chicago Tribune and to Bensenville attorney Frank Soto, who is running for village president in the April 7 election against six-term incumbent John Geils.

Naturally, Soto made the pay increases a campaign issue — and rightfully so.

His campaign blanketed the community last weekend with fliers that said, among other things, “When was the last time you got a raise? Was it 21%?” and “Who’s in charge here? Bernie Madoff?”

“In a situation where the village has the amount of debt it does, the property tax increases that we have seen, the extra fees and the water fee increases we have received, I do think it is inappropriate that certain people close to the administration seem to be getting these rewards,” Soto said. “I think that is inappropriate in this economy.”

Darn right those excessive pay increases are inappropriate. Instead of a retroactive pay increase in the middle of a recession, I got laid off. And so did thousands of other Illinoisans.

But Bensenville apparently has plenty of money to spread around among its top-tier employees. I hope the Chicago Tribune is checking into whether Bensenville applied for stimulus funds. I suspect that extra money didn’t stop village officials from asking for a government handout.

U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he and 14 other moderate Democratic senators are meeting regularly to discuss ways they can influence the Democratic agenda to be more centrist.

When I first heard this news, my gut reaction was that the 15 Democrats are making waves because they are unhappy about the direction taken by the Obama administration. As Chris Cillizza noted on The Washington Post‘s political blog, The Fix, Bayh is no stranger to critiquing White House decisions:

“I can understand why there is a desire for unanimity,” said Bayh in an interview with The Fix this afternoon. “But a certain amount of policy debate usually leads to better outcomes.”

A quick examination of the early days of the Obama administration reveals that Bayh has backed up that rhetoric with action.

He was one of just three Senate Democrats who voted against the $410 billion omnibus spending bill and he urged President Obama to veto the bill in a high profile op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. (Obama did not.) Bayh also has expressed doubts about the amount of money dedicated to health care reform and climate change in the president’s budget, calling for an emphasis on lowering costs rather than simply spending more.

Bayh later released a statement saying the group will focus on “the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate.”

Another member of the centrist coalition, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, said on MSNBC that he doesn’t consider the group as opposing the president.

“I don’t think you should consider us opposing the president at all,” Begich said. “I think we agree with his priorities when it comes to education and energy and figuring out how to reduce this deficit and making sure we have a good health care plan. It’s to make things happen.

“And now I think some of the press has said, well, this is an opposition to the president. That’s just not accurate. What we are trying to do is — there are more of us now, more moderates from western states and other communities that want to make sure when we put pieces of legislation on the table, that we can move them forward and get them done.

“A great example of that was the stimulus bill,” Begich continued. “It was (Democratic) moderates that came together with moderates from the Republican Party that pushed that to the final moment and getting it passed. It was logjammed up.

“What we are is practical. We want to get things done. But I would not portray us as an opposition at all to the president. What we are is some in the majority who want to get things done, are practical and want to see this country move forward on major issues.”

Actually, I suspect the centrist view is more in line with the president’s approach to governing than the far-left liberalism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her kind. The centrist coalition may be exactly what Obama needs to maintain his reputation for bipartisan approach. For that reason, the president and his administration should welcome the creation of this coalition.

Some food for thought for those who support continuing the Iraq War but are appalled by the amount of spending in the $787 billion federal stimulus bill aimed at jumpstarting our nation’s flagging economy:

calculator-cartoon

The New York Times reported Monday that New York 20th Congressional District candidate Jim Tedisco refuses to say how he would have voted on the $787 billion federal stimulus bill, giving his opponent, Scott Murphy, some political ammunition for their race.

The two men are vying for the U.S. House of Representatives seat recently vacated by New York’s newest U.S. senator, Kristen Gillibrand. Murphy is a Democratic newcomer, while Tedisco is the Republican minority leader of the New York State Assembly, which places the latter man in a tough position.

If Tedisco backs the stimulus bill, he would take a position contrary to every Republican in the House. Remember, the House version of the stimulus bill didn’t get a single Republican vote. However, Democrats say their polling shows an overwhelming amount of support for the stimulus bill in the 20th Congressional District. If their polling is accurate and Tedisco doesn’t endorse the stimulus bill, he risks alienating enough voters to lose the March 31 special election.

While Tedisco refuses to take a stand on the issue, Murphy continues to hammer away on him about it.

“I’m really curious what my opponent is going to do, because he can’t seem to decide whether he’s in favor or opposed,” Murphy said. “In times like this, we need leaders. And leaders have to make decisions.”

It seems Murphy may have found an issue that resonates with voters. Tedisco wants to be a U.S. representative, but doesn’t want to weigh in on the most important issue of the day? That’s unacceptable.

Instead of being a political wimp, Tedisco needs to take a stand and live with the consequences. Otherwise he will seem wishy-washy — and probably hand the election to Murphy.

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