Webb shares perspectives, insight on stimulus

Jim Webb isn’t your average run-of-the-mill partisan whose vote can be accounted for solely based on his Democratic Party pedigree. The centrist Virginia senior senator studied the economic-stimulus plan making its way through Congress line item-by-line item.
“I had to be able to sit up here as I am right now and say, This is a package that meets the criteria that I believe strongly in in order to help us get going. And I can comfortably say that,” Webb told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon, in the wake of a 61-37 vote by the Senate to approve an $838 billion – yes, with a b – package aimed at getting the U.S. economy moving.

Webb was instrumental in a bipartisan effort to get the legislative package out of the Senate. The work, led by Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, was focused on finding common grounds between Democrats who generally speaking want to focus the stimulus on infrastructure projects that should inject money into the economy by putting contractors back to work and Republicans who generally want the stimulus to be more about tax cuts.

“We’ve been criticized on both sides – on the one hand by those who don’t believe that there should be a stimulus package at all, other than perhaps some tax benefits, and people on our side who are saying, What are you doing cutting this money out?” said Webb, noting among the criticisms for Democrats on the ad hoc compromise committee the move to cut school-construction funds from among the billions.

Webb’s views on the stimulus came at the end of an exhaustive review of the inches-thick legislation that he initiated with this staff last week. “The guidance that I gave my staff was, We have to make sure that the programs in here, to the best of our ability, as one office, go into the hands of people who need the money, or go into infrastructure programs that are ready to go, already authorized through the congressional process, or go to governors so that they can do similar things inside their states, or go to the home-foreclosure situation. Those were the criteria that we laid down,” Webb said.

“We were able to bring this package forward in a way that will help American families, will take care of infrastructure projects that had already been authorized and then as a result can be put into motion soon,” Webb said. “The focus, from my perspective, was always on getting money into the hands of people that needed it, getting projects done that will save jobs and help create jobs, put infrastructure projects online in a short period of time, and get this economy going in a robust way at a time when we as a nation desperately need to be making sure that we take care of our future.

“I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important I think it is for us to stimulate this economy and get our country going again,” Webb said.

And at least some impact from the stimulus could be felt something on the order of immediately. “The bill is broken down between tax provisions and appropriations. And depending on the areas that you’re looking at, some portions of this bill will come into effect immediately,” Webb said. “There are increases in aid to food stamps, for instance. There is a provision that Sen. Mikulski sponsored that I cosponsored that will allow direct tax deductions to take place if you buy a new car. There are job provisions. And hopefully with the infrastructure projects that we’re going to put online you’re going to see these projects green-lit in the areas of construction and roads and those sorts of things so that we can see an uptick in our business activity in this area,” Webb said.

Webb praised the efforts of Snowe and fellow Republican senators Susan Collins and Arlen Specter, but also offered some pointed criticisms of Republicans in the House and Senate who have chosen to play politics rather than participate in the substantive discussions around the bill.

“It’s going to be easy to measure a continuing downturn in the economy. It’s going to be hard to ascribe a recovery of the economy to these sorts of programs, although I think we will be able to do that,” Webb said. “Fixing the economy is going to be very complex with a number of different programs. We need to continue to work on the banking system. We need to reregulate the banking system. We need to find programs that will take the toxic assets out of the banking system, which is what the original TARP was supposed to do, and that’s why I voted for it, and they haven’t done that.

“It’s a very complex formula, and it’s going to be easy to sit back and point a finger,” Webb said. “A good example of that, and I hope we see less of this from the other side, is when we had the annual meeting with the governor yesterday in Richmond, of the congressional delegations, and all of the Republican members of Congress refused to attend. They refused to even have their staffs attend. That’s not governing. That’s political campaigning. We have to all get together here and govern. And this is the program that the country has now chosen through its elected leaders in order to try to help us move forward, and it’s vital to the country that we try to make it work.”

 

– Story by Chris Graham


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