Saying that taxpayers are “in no mood” to see their money squandered, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Monday criticized the massive economic-stimulus package Democrats are drafting as a potential boondoggle that could leave the country strapped with unsustainable debt.
“Taxpayers are in no mood to have a single dollar wasted, but it's not yet been explained how their tax dollars will be protected and not wasted in a rush to spend their money,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “The American people need to know if their money is going to be spent on mob museums and water slides.”
McConnell and congressional Republicans want at least a week to scrutinize the bill after its finished. Just as importantly, they want it posted online so that taxpayers can see it, too.
“A trillion-dollar spending bill would be the largest spending bill in the history of our country at a time when our national debt is already the largest in history,” McConnell said in a statement. “As a result, it will require tough scrutiny and oversight. Taxpayers, already stretched to the limit, deserve nothing less.”
McConnell was joined by House Republicans, whose leader indicated that the Obama administration shouldn’t expect them to roll over for a spending program that could approach $1 trillion by some estimates.
The stimulus bill Democrats are crafting is supposed to be ready by President-elect Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has said repeatedly that that’s her goal, but a spokesman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told Bloomberg news service that the timing of Senate action is unclear because he will need some Republican support to approve the legislation.
The debate over the bill is likely to be the first test of Republican strength and cohesion in the Obama administration. To stall the bill, McConnell has no room for error. He’ll have to convince Republicans in Democratic-dominated states to stay true to their beliefs. On Monday, McConnell was backed by House Republicans.
“I would ask the Democratic leadership to guarantee that such a bill will not be brought to the floor of the House unless there have been public hearings in the appropriate committees, the entire text has been available online for the American people to review for at least one week, and it includes no special-interest earmarks,” said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Thus far, House Republicans have been the most vocal in their opposition to a large, spending-oriented stimulus package in the coming year, according to The Hill newspaper.
McConnell said he understood Democrats wanted to move the bill in the two weeks Congress is in session before Obama’s inauguration, but warned he would not agree to rush the bill through the Senate.
A debate will offer Republicans a forum to show conservatives that they are still the party of fiscal responsibility and small government. The GOP has lost seats in the House and Senate over the last two elections, and many in the party blame those defeats on the GOP's losing its way on fiscal conservatism.
McConnell said any stimulus should meet a simple test: “Will the yet-unwritten, reportedly trillion-dollar spending bill really create jobs and grow the economy — or will it simply create more government spending, more bureaucrats and deeper deficits?”
The key question will be if McConnell will have the power to slow down the stimulus bill in the Senate. Republicans could be down to 41 seats if Democrat Al Franken defeats Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. Franken is ahead in the latest recount. Though many Republicans favor some kind of stimulus, most conservative economists believe it is best achieved with tax cuts.
“We must also make distinctions between what is ‘stimulus’ — defined by Speaker Pelosi earlier this year as ‘timely, targeted and temporary’ — and what is merely more government spending on favored projects we don't need with money we don't have,” McConnell said.
On Sunday, Obama adviser David Axelrod said the incoming administration has not put a price tag on the stimulus, but suggested it would be in the range of $675 billion to $775 billion. But add-ons by lawmakers could raise the price to $850 billion. His advisers say an $850 billion plan could generate about 3.2 million jobs by the first quarter of 2011.
Yet some liberal economists favor an even bigger spending stimulus: up to $1.3 trillion. Vice President-elect Joe Biden said this month that lawmakers will not be allowed to attach pet projects to the legislation.
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