Stimulus Talk Rules Recess

Posted February 20, 2009 at 6:26pm

Whether you were a House Republican iffy on the economic stimulus before you were against it, or one who was against it before you were for it, Capitol Hill will be a welcome reprieve as Members return after a tense week at home following the unanimous GOP opposition to the bill.

While several moderate Republicans toured their districts to explain why they chose to vote against the bill that will bring jobs back home, several of their colleagues in more politically safe districts touted the effects of the package in their communities.

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (La.), arguably the most vulnerable member of the GOP Conference, returned home for the Presidents Day recess to an effort by African-American ministers to recall the freshman lawmaker.

Cao was so undecided in the moments leading up to the vote that he told reporters standing outside the House chamber that he was leaning “yes” — a decision he reversed as the final minutes of the vote ticked away.

Back in his district, where President Barack Obama earned 70 percent of the vote in November, Cao explained to local press that there were not enough funds in the bill for his New Orleans-based district, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. An estimated 8,000 jobs will be created in Cao’s 2nd district as a result of the bill, according to a Tuesday White House document.

However, a source close to Cao said he did not regret his vote and that most of the constituents that disagreed with Cao have expressed their concerns respectfully.

The source added that many of the ministers leading the effort to recall Cao were longtime supporters of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), whom Cao beat, and it was unlikely that the Louisiana Republican would have their votes even if he had been in support of the stimulus bill.

The Constitution does not provide for the recall of a Member of the House or Senate, according to a March 2003 Congressional Research Service report. No Member of Congress has ever been removed from office by recall, the report said.

A spokesman for the House Administration Committee confirmed that unless a Member chooses to resign, once he is sworn in only the House can remove the Member from office.

Cao’s experience was much different than fellow fence-sitters on the stimulus package. Michigan GOP Reps. Candice Miller and Fred Upton said their constituents were overwhelmingly supportive of their eleventh-hour decisions to vote no, despite the dire economic situation in Michigan.

Cao, Upton, Miller and Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) were courted heavily by Republican leaders, who encouraged them to vote against the stimulus bill, according to several GOP sources. Castle’s office did not return a call for comment.

Miller told Roll Call on Friday that despite the robocalls from 527s groups in her district and the fact that many people she spoke to were glad they were receiving some help, she received overwhelming support for her decision to vote against the bill.

“A district like mine is as hard-hit as anywhere in the nation, really,” Miller said. “But I would say 80/20 or even 90/10 [supported] the vote against the bill.”

Upton maintained a frenetic pace during the week, speaking everywhere from local radio stations to Western Michigan University to explain that he thought the bill was unfairly put together and unveiled too late to cast an informed “yes” vote on it.

“From each scheduled visit with constituents to being stopped on the street this week, there has been widespread appreciation for Fred’s thoughtful consideration of the bill,” Upton spokesman Sean Bonyun said. “Fred had hoped that there would have been a bipartisan opportunity in the House — but unfortunately that never came to fruition.”

The White House estimated that 7,200 jobs will be created in Upton’s district and that 7,900 will be created in Miller’s.

But as Miller and Upton defended their choice to oppose the bill, Republican lawmakers who have less reason to worry about their re-elections were caught touting projects in a bill that, days earlier, they had derided as a liberal spending spree.

In what amounted to a very quick turnaround, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on Wednesday posted a message on Twitter urging first-time homebuyers to move fast because the “stimulus incentive is very generous! Up to 8k! Check it out.” But only one day earlier he was on Twitter describing the stimulus as a “Govt spending spree clearly not seen as the answer to difficult economic challenges.”

Hoekstra is considering running for governor in 2010.

GOP Reps. Don Young (Alaska), Blaine Luetkemeyer (Mo.), Ken Calvert (Calif.) and John Mica (Fla.) also issued celebratory statements about projects in the bill that would benefit their districts.

On Thursday, Mica was one of nine Florida Republicans to join with nine of their Democratic colleagues in writing to the Education secretary to request a waiver for their state to qualify for $2.7 billion in a key funding category of the bill.

“This critical funding is vital to protecting our schools from budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Because Florida has been hit especially hard by a rise in foreclosures, unemployment, and recent natural disasters, we are experiencing a crippling budget crisis. Now more than ever, we must invest in our state’s future,” the letter states.

Other Florida Republicans who signed onto the letter include Reps. Adam Putnam, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Tom Rooney, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ginny Brown-Waite, Cliff Stearns and Bill Posey.

Top Democrats have been grumbling about GOP Members taking credit for the perks of a package they loudly opposed.

“For House Republicans to unanimously vote against the economic recovery bill in Washington and then take credit for it at home is completely hypocritical. In these difficult times, Americans want action on the economy, not a bunch of Republican rhetoric,” said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) said Republicans are illustrating that “it is easier to kick down a barn than to build one.” He specifically criticized former House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) for complaining that the stimulus lacks sufficient VA funding.