Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd yesterday unveiled a $100.3 billion economic recovery package that they say will create 635,000 new jobs. The plan includes a number of green initiatives, including investments in mass transit, home weatherization, and electricity transmission improvements.

“In response to higher unemployment, rising food costs, higher energy costs, state budgets in crisis, increased dependence on foreign oil, and our housing crisis, this stimulus bill is designed to jump start the economy and help Americans recover from the recession,” said Byrd in a statement. “It is time to deliver to Main Street.”

The package would allocate $500 million for weatherization programs to reduce energy usage. It also would approve a $300 million investment in advanced battery research, $1 billion for the advanced battery manufacturing loan guarantees, $500 million for local governments to improve energy efficiency, another $500 million for additional energy efficiency and renewable energy R&D; and $140 million for electricity transmission improvements. Another $2.5 billion is set aside for mass transit funding, with $400 million marked for Amtrak in particular.

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The package includes additional assistance for the auto industry, putting $25 billion of the $700 billion bailout toward loans. The lawmakers say that their loan package “requires a long-term financial plan from the companies and has robust provisions for oversight, taxpayer protection, and executive compensation.” It also calls for tax deductions for interest payments on car loans and state taxes for new cars purchased between November 12, 2008 and December 31, 2009.

Republicans still seem to be figuring out whether or not they will cooperate on the stimulus bill. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) issued a statement yesterday saying, “We owe it to the people of Nevada, Kentucky and all across America to make known the impact this bailout would have on the deficit; the taxpayers deserve to know if this bailout would increase the national debt and raise their taxes.”

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And Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, appeared to downplay the need for a major stimulus bill in a statement posted on his Web site:

“Moving forward, Congress needs to avoid enacting legislation in order to be seen as simply ‘doing something.’ For example, some have suggested providing a massive aid package to the big three domestic auto makers. But there is no good rationale for a taxpayer investment in car companies. The companies have not explained how the taxpayer investment would be used and have not given any assurance that it would be repaid (taking equity positions in these failing companies is not a good deal for taxpayers). The companies have not even justified why $25 billion will be sufficient given their long-term structural problems.

In addition, spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on pork transportation projects or sending money to state or local governments will not increase economic growth, but will only serve to increase the indebtedness of our children and future generations.