Arkies stimulated | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 13, 2009

Arkies stimulated

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 7:38 PM

I should have made more previously about my happiness about our occasional contributions from Washington by Paul Barton, my old friend, a veteran of state Capitol and Washington, D.C., coverage for the Arkasnas Democrat, Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Tonight, he contributes one of what I hope will be a continuing series of Arkansas Blog contributions on our people in Washington.

He notes something to remember: This vote could be important politically in the future for those on both sides.

By Paul Barton

WASHINGTON – “I think we are living history today,” Rep. Mike Ross told the Arkansas Times shortly before he went to the House floor Friday to join fellow Democratic representatives Vic Snyder and Marion Berry in voting for the $789 billion economic stimulus bill.

The bill passed with only three GOP votes out of 535 members of Congress, all three of them in the Senate. Rep. John Boozman, Republican of Arkansas, was not among them.

As for the other chamber, Arkansas’s  Sen. Blanche Lincoln, another Democrat who supported the measure, said to all those who criticized the bill, “I think the mistake people make is everyone is looking at this in a vacuum.”

There were clearly some things in the bill she wasn’t comfortable with, said Lincoln, a staunch centrist. But the bill “is only a first step,” on the road to economic recovery, she said, adding there will be many other issues Congress can tackle this year that can also be crafted to generate immediate economic activity. Number one on the list is finishing fiscal year 2009 appropriations, Lincoln said.

In reciting a long list of tax-relief items included in package, Lincoln, a member of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, vowed Arkansas businesses, especially small businesses, will begin to feel the effects of Friday’s action  “soon.”

Importantly, she said many of the tax-related issues in the bill will help businesses rearrange their finances and get some fiscal relief that will help them do more with their own resources until banks become less tight-fisted.

 As to whether the gulf between the parties will be like this on everything President Obama wants, she added: “I sure hope not. I think there will certainly be those of us who will be in the middle.”

Meanwhile, for Ross, long a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House, voting to add nearly $800 billion in more federal spending would not normally be the way he would want to start a congressional session.

But this was clearly a high-pressure vote – on a par with those, like the Panama Canal and Iraq war votes, could mark members for the rest of their careers.

Ross said he realized that, but said he agreed with Obama that speedy action to counteract a tanking economy was imperative.

“We’re living in the most challenging times since 9/11 and one of the most challenging times of this generation,” Ross said.

Citing Democratic estimates, he added,  “It’s not everyday you get to cast a vote in Congress that is going to directly put 30,000 people [in Arkansas] to work and that’s a good feeling.”

Overall, both Ross and Lincoln sided with claims that the bill could generate 3 million to 4 million jobs nationwide.

As for frequent Republican references to a Congressional Budget Office report that said that the bill’s effect over 10 years would not be that significant, Ross said even economists on the right have called for a stimulus package.

Again on the debt issue, he  said, “I think it’s a case where we have to dig the hole a little deeper before we can begin to dig out of it.”

Ross was among a number of Blue Dog Democrats who met with Obama at the White House Tuesday. He said the president assured them that once the economy gets back on track, fiscal discipline will be an administration priority.

In fact, Ross said, Obama promised to hold “a fiscal responsibility summit” soon and “the Blue Dogs will be an important part of that.”

The solidly Republican opposition in the House included Rep. John Boozman of Arkansas. Through statements issued by his office, he has sided with Republican critics who contend the bill includes too much spending that will be wasteful rather than helpful to economic growth.

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