California Senators lead charge for more public works spending

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 3, 2009 

WASHINGTON — California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer says members of Congress must focus on three things as they put together an economic stimulus plan: jobs, jobs and more jobs.

And Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior senator, says Congress should spend less on tax cuts and more on public works.

Ideas abound as the Senate prepares to sign off on the largest federal spending plan in history, an $885 billion package intended to jolt the economy. California’s senators are using the state's staggering economy — a 9.2 percent unemployment rate and 1.7 million people out of work — to try to increase the state’s share of the money.

It's now estimated to be as high as $64 billion, if you include the value of the tax cuts, which represent nearly 40 percent of the package. But the senators say the state would benefit more if Congress steered more money toward projects to improve the nation's highways, bridges, and water and sewer systems.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Feinstein said Congress should spend more on "a massive program to build what is failing." If members added another $25 billion for highway, rail and water projects, they could create another 655,000 jobs nationwide, she said.

Joining Feinstein, Boxer told her colleagues that housing construction in California "has literally stopped in its tracks" and that Congress must respond quickly to a national crisis.

"We have to get in front of the recession or it will become a depression," she said.

While Feinstein and Boxer were pressing their case on the Senate floor, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the phone with President Barack Obama. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama spoke to Schwarzenegger and two other GOP governors because they had signed a letter pledging their support. The White House says the plan will help governors avoid making cuts in services such as public safety.

Winning support for the stimulus bill from GOP senators was proving more difficult.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the goal of Republicans will be to "pare it down."

And Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota called the plan "an unprecedented spending spree" that would add to the nation’s record deficit. "A trillion dollars is a terrible thing to waste," he said.

He said senators need to stop looking at the stimulus package as an abstraction.

"If you started spending a million dollars a day on the day that Christ was born and you spent a million dollars every single day up until today, you still wouldn't have spent a trillion dollars," Thune said.

Boxer told Thune she was "astounded" by the new fiscal concern shown by Republicans, noting that was absent when the party controlled Washington.

"This is a test of whether the Senate has a heart and a brain," Boxer said, adding that it would help ease the suffering of the unemployed and help kick-start the economy. She said Republicans opposing the economic stimulus plan run the risk of being labeled "the party of Herbert Hoover" for saying no to everything.

"What do they come up with again? Tax cuts for the wealthy," Boxer said.

Meanwhile, a new analysis by the Center for American Progress showed that California could receive as much as $64 billion from the Senate bill, if you include the value of the tax cuts. And 12 percent — or roughly $8 billion — would be reserved to help balance the state budget, according to the group's analysis.

The Senate is expected to vote on the stimulus bill later this week, after voting on a series of amendments.

On a procedural vote Tuesday, the Senate rejected a plan offered by Feinstein and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington that would have set aside another $18 billion for highway and rail projects and another $7 billion for weather projects. FEINSTEIN, BOXER LEAD CHARGE FOR MORE PUBLIC WORKS SPENDING

By Rob Hotakainen

Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer says members of Congress must focus on three things as they put together an economic stimulus plan: jobs, jobs and more jobs.

And Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior senator, says Congress should spend less on tax cuts and more on public works.

Ideas abound as the Senate prepares to sign off on the largest federal spending plan in history, an $885 billion package intended to jolt the economy. California’s senators are using the state's staggering economy — a 9.2 percent unemployment rate and 1.7 million people out of work — to try to increase the state’s share of the money.

It's now estimated to be as high as $64 billion, if you include the value of the tax cuts, which represent nearly 40 percent of the package. But the senators say the state would benefit more if Congress steered more money toward projects to improve the nation's highways, bridges, and water and sewer systems.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Feinstein said Congress should spend more on "a massive program to build what is failing." If members added another $25 billion for highway, rail and water projects, they could create another 655,000 jobs nationwide, she said.

Joining Feinstein, Boxer told her colleagues that housing construction in California "has literally stopped in its tracks" and that Congress must respond quickly to a national crisis.

"We have to get in front of the recession or it will become a depression," she said.

While Feinstein and Boxer were pressing their case on the Senate floor, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the phone with President Barack Obama. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama spoke to Schwarzenegger and two other GOP governors because they had signed a letter pledging their support. The White House says the plan will help governors avoid making cuts in services such as public safety.

Winning support for the stimulus bill from GOP senators was proving more difficult.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the goal of Republicans will be to "pare it down."

And Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota called the plan "an unprecedented spending spree" that would add to the nation’s record deficit. "A trillion dollars is a terrible thing to waste," he said.

He said senators need to stop looking at the stimulus package as an abstraction.

"If you started spending a million dollars a day on the day that Christ was born and you spent a million dollars every single day up until today, you still wouldn't have spent a trillion dollars," Thune said.

Boxer told Thune she was "astounded" by the new fiscal concern shown by Republicans, noting that was absent when the party controlled Washington.

"This is a test of whether the Senate has a heart and a brain," Boxer said, adding that it would help ease the suffering of the unemployed and help kick-start the economy. She said Republicans opposing the economic stimulus plan run the risk of being labeled "the party of Herbert Hoover" for saying no to everything.

"What do they come up with again? Tax cuts for the wealthy," Boxer said.

Meanwhile, a new analysis by the Center for American Progress showed that California could receive as much as $64 billion from the Senate bill, if you include the value of the tax cuts. And 12 percent — or roughly $8 billion — would be reserved to help balance the state budget, according to the group's analysis.

The Senate is expected to vote on the stimulus bill later this week, after voting on a series of amendments.

On a procedural vote Tuesday, the Senate rejected a plan offered by Feinstein and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington that would have set aside another $18 billion for highway and rail projects and another $7 billion for weather projects.

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