Senate Republicans Mum on Stimulus Plans

Posted October 17, 2008 at 7:02am

Senate Republicans have been noticeably absent from the debate on a forthcoming economic stimulus package, leaving questions over where the minority will come down when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brings the chamber back into a lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 elections. Reid spokesman Jim Manley on Thursday echoed what his boss has said previously about an economic measure, saying the current volatility in the market has increased the need to help struggling homeowners and consumers frozen out of the credit market. Manley said Congress had worked to help save several large banks from all-out failure, but now it must provide the same aid to average Americans. Although it’s only been a day since Reid has come out with a framework for his version of an economic stimulus bill, the Democratic leadership has been toying with the idea for weeks. Yet Senate Republicans have largely kept their powder dry on whether and to what degree Congress should funnel more money into the troubled economy. One senior Senate GOP aide explained that Republicans have not weighed in on the conversation because it’s too early to discuss what will happen when they return for the lame-duck session. Plus, many Republicans have found themselves in tougher re-election races, forcing them to shift their attention back home, the aide said. In fact, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is engaged in an intense race against his Democratic challenger, millionaire Bruce Lunsford. Two other Republican Senate leaders also are heading off challengers at home, including Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas). The GOP aide said Republicans recognize that something has to be done to aid consumers when they come back for the shortened session but that Democrats should not run over them without inviting them to the negotiation table. “Democrats have ideas. House Republicans have some ideas. Senate Republicans will want to bring to the table some things. But, they will have to let the legislative process sort this thing out,” the GOP aide said. “This can’t be Congress not acting like Congress.” The posture is proving that the lame-duck session may turn into another partisan showdown, particularly if Democrats make gains as expected on Nov. 4. Also a factor could be the momentum behind the newly elected president, whomever it may be. Manley said that Democrats “hope to be able to work on a bipartisan basis, but if Republicans are going to come to the table with their usual demands for more tax cuts for the wealthy that probably isn’t going to fly.” Meanwhile House Republican leaders already are setting up a battle over the price tag and components of the forthcoming economic package. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) continues to slam Democrats for envisioning a potentially $300 billion bill that he says is “pork-laden” and fails to jump-start the economy in the long term. “The Majority’s plan isn’t meant to stimulate anything except Democratic voter turnout. You can dress a pig in a t-shirt that says ‘stimulus’ — but guess what? It’s still a pig,” Boehner wrote Thursday in an opinion piece in National Review. Instead, Boehner has called on Democrats to embrace “pro-growth” alternatives such as offshore drilling and corporate tax cuts. “House Republicans are prepared to fight for these reforms – and against the big government boondoggle currently being crafted by the Democrats in charge on Capitol Hill,” Boehner said this week. Meanwhile, Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered a more measured response, but he also warned Democrats against getting overambitious. “I certainly will work on a stimulus package that makes sense,” Blunt said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “But let’s not use the stimulus package as an excuse to do what Democrats have wanted to do from Day One of this Congress, which is a huge public works plan,” Blunt argued. “Now the reason to have that is the economic stress. Bailing out states that spent a lot more money than they should have on Medicaid and other social programs, they’ve been wanting to do that the whole time.”