BERLIN – As the battle over President Barack Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus package rages on just across the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, Worcester County’s representatives in the nation’s capital remain somewhat divided over the plan, with the state’s two Senators, both Democrats, strongly supporting the measure, and the freshman Congressman, also a Democrat, breaking ranks with his brethren.
As expected, Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin wholeheartedly support the president’s economic stimulus plan and were among those who voted on Monday to approve $800 billion-plus package. The Senate on Monday approved its version of the stimulus plan by a vote of 61-36, or one more vote than was needed. Every Democrat in the Senate, including Mikulski and Cardin, voted in favor of the spending package, and three Republican Senators broke ranks to provide the difference.
Last week, the House approved its own version of a stimulus plan, but vote did not cut right down party lines as the Senate vote did nearly a week later. The House approved its bill by a vote of 244-188, but 11 Democrats, including freshman Congressman Frank Kratovil, who represents Worcester County and the entire Eastern Shore, broke ranks and voted against the stimulus plan. Kratovil, who has already become somewhat of a maverick in the few short months since he was elected, said he voted against the plan not because he disagreed with it conceptually, but rather because of its unnecessary pork.
“A stimulus package of this unimaginable size needs to be met with the reality that a recovery and reinvestment plan is an extraordinary response to an extraordinary crisis,” he said “It is not an opportunity to abandon fiscal discipline in lieu wasteful spending.”
Kratovil said he objected to some of the less than dire elements of the plan as proposed, including $200 million to rebuild the National Mall and another $50 million in funding for the National Endowment of the Arts among others.
“Although these may be admirable causes, they certainly are not emergencies and should not be lumped in with legitimate efforts to strengthen our economy and get people back to work,” he said “Our economy is in crisis, and it’s going to take a combination of tough choices and fiscal responsibility to give it the boost it needs.”
Meanwhile, Mikulski said this week she strongly supported the bill for several reasons, not the least of which was the promise of creating new jobs and restoring those lost during the last several months.
“We have inherited a terrible mess, but the Senate has taken a major step forward to turn the country around by passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” she said following the Senate vote on Monday. “By standing with President Obama, we stand up for America to create jobs for people who have lost them and to help those who have jobs, keep them. This is about jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Mikulski said the bill approved by the Senate emerged from a difficult debate about what would truly help restore the economy and create jobs and what was piggybacked and unnecessary.
“Through the rough and tumble of the legislative process, the Senate found a sensible center,” she said “This bill balances spending on the public investments and targeted tax credits that create jobs without exacerbating the federal deficit. This bill is a victory for America. This bill stimulates the economy today and lays the groundwork for a stronger economy tomorrow.”
Cardin, meanwhile, also praised the Senate’s passage of its version of the bill on Monday, falling in line with his Democratic brethren. Cardin held out hope the approval of the stimulus package would help jumpstart the national and state economies as planned.
“The bill we passed in the Senate today is a victory for all Americans,” he said. “I am very pleased that we were able to move forward on legislation that gives President Obama the tools he needs to deal with our severe economic times. We’ve provided a balance of tax cuts and spending programs that will help jumpstart our economy.”
Cardin said the trickle-down of the package, if approved, will find its way to the people who need it the most.
“The bill passed by the Senate is timely,” he said. “It will create jobs immediately in Maryland and across the country, helping our states and local communities by providing funding for ready-to-go projects, such as fixing crumbling roads and bridges. This bill is targeted. It puts money back in the pockets of Americans who are most likely to spend it, injecting needed capital into our economy. It helps people stay in their homes, keep their jobs, and take care of their families.”
Late Wednesday, the House and Senate leadership reached a compromise on their two separate versions of the package, cutting certain elements to come up with an amended $790 billion plan. The agreed-upon version could come to a vote by the full House as soon as today (Friday) and the full Senate is expected to pick up the discussion soon after receiving it from the House, making a final vote possible this weekend.