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Statement of

Senator Michael B. Enzi

On H.R. 1, the American Investment and Recovery Act

February 13, 2009

Mr. President. I didn’t think it was possible, but after waiting until late last night to finally receive the text of this trillion-dollar economic bailout legislation, the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader took a bad bill and made it worse. Fix housing first.  The housing market is where our problems began and it’s where they will end. Fix housing first. So what do the negotiators between the House and Senate do?   Amazingly, Democratic Leadership managed to remove one of the only provisions that would really do some good and help address housing.    

Stripped from the conference report is Senator Isakson’s Homebuyers Tax Credit extension amendment. Expanding that successful tax credit program would have addressed the source of our economic crisis, housing, and would help bring tentative homebuyers back into the market. There are over 3.5 million homes on the market right now, and no buyers.  Instead of including this provision, the conferees replaced it with more wasteful government spending.

They’ve used up our last bullet. They’ve maxed out the federal credit card. Every drop has been taken out of the well and they’ve spent this one-time money on expenses that will go on and on.

I have listened to the Democratic leadership speak on this legislation over the past day or so and have been surprised as they described it as bipartisan, compromise legislation. I’ve been a member of the United States Senate for 12 plus years, and in my experience, finding only 3 members of the minority party to support legislation and involving them only at the end of the process is not compromise.  It is not bipartisan in the slightest. 

I’m disappointed that we’ve reached this point. When we first began discussing this legislation, President Obama asked for change. He asked for a bipartisan, economic stimulus measure – something that could garner as many as 80 votes. I wanted to see that as well. I wanted to see legislation that both parties could support because the economic crisis we are in is not a partisan problem.  Unfortunately, the legislation we have before us is partisan and it reads like a list of liberal priorities bundled together that could not gain support individually. It is a wish list that they couldn’t pass for the last 20 years because they couldn’t find the money.

Democratic leaders, even at the exclusion of other Democrats, wrote a bill, brought it to the floor and then negotiated with Republicans they thought they could pick off. Several saw what was happening and dropped out.  They picked three off by asking what it would take to get them to vote for the Democratic bill and making a few changes. It was not a bill made by both parties.

President Obama turned the drafting of this bill over to the Speaker of the House and other Democratic leaders who didn’t consult Republicans and even said: "We won the election. We get to write the bill."  Then the President went out on the "campaign" trail to stump for a plan crafted solely by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. He complained that he reached out, but Republicans didn't reach back. Reaching out just can’t be an afterthought. The supporters are using the politics of fear. Fear mongering adds to the problem.

I was not part of the initial "gang of eight" Republican Senators that was hand-picked to work with Senator Ben Nelson and the Majority Leader on a "compromise," "stimulus" bill.  I would note, however, that five of the eight Republicans quickly saw how superficial the compromise was going to be and bowed out.

I nevertheless offered and supported ways to improve the bill that were put forward by some of our colleagues. I'm not just talking about the amendments you saw on the floor that would reduce the price.  Those were simply efforts to salvage something out of the wreck.  I suggested removing a number of things that didn’t make sense - policies backed by Republicans and policies backed by Democrats. I always recognize that both sides have to have things left out to be fair.

I also backed moving the bill forward in several understandable pieces.  I offered amendments that sought to improve several parts of the bill, including a change that would make sure that the billions of taxpayer dollars spent to pay for health information technology would go towards items that will actually work in the real world. This was a real bipartisan effort, which enjoyed broad support among both Republicans and Democrats.  Unfortunately it, along with my efforts to try to protect patients from government bureaucrats rationing their access to healthcare, was largely ignored.  As a result, I have strong concerns that this stimulus bill will likely backfire on patients and providers, resulting in far more harm than any good that we are likely to see from its ill conceived and misguided efforts.   We are going to do health care reform this year. Partisan pieces don’t have to be rushed through as "stimulus."

This massive bill contains short-term and long-term spending, and I advocated moving forward with the short-term spending immediately. I advocated for addressing the housing crisis and the jobs crisis now.  I suggested that, after we dealt with those pieces of the bill, we should work on the long-term items. Some of those items in this bill are important, but they should be dealt with in a separate measure, going through the normal legislative process where we can have time for real debate about our nation’s priorities.

I'm not happy about deficit spending in these bailouts. I realize something is wrong with our economy and we need to take steps to fix it.  I worked to create a bill that efficiently used taxpayer money to improve the housing market and put more people back to work. The "compromise" we were forced to take or leave was so far off the mark and full of pork that it was obscene. 

I won't support spending money we don't have for projects we don't need. I will support legitimate efforts put forward by either party that could help our country out of this economic mess.

I've been very critical of this bill and other bailout bills passed last year, and time is showing that I made the right decisions opposing those bailouts.  I would support an economic stimulus package if only it lived up to the President's own threshold of being targeted, timely and temporary. I am leery of spending one time money on programs that will have to continue.  These will be continuing payments.  But this bill doesn't fit with The President’s words and Democratic leadership has made no real effort to make it conform.

This bill is bad both in content and in process. It includes wasteful spending including $2 billion for groups like ACORN and $1.3 billion for Amtrak. Funding that was stripped from the Senate version for sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention was included in the Conference Report.

As is typical in Washington, programs that were member’s pet projects saw ridiculous increases in the Conference. The Senate bill provided $2 billion for the High-Speed Rail Corridor Program. The House bill included no funding for the program. How much did the Conference provide? $8 billion. This is compromise according to Congress. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill included $200 million for "Transportation Electrification." Logically, one would expect that the Conference would then provide $200 million. But, logic flies out the window when you come inside the Beltway, and the conference provided $400 million - double the Senate and House passed amount.

I know how to do more than talk about bipartisanship. I've built a career on it without compromising my principles. Take a closer look and you will see bipartisanship isn't really about compromise.  It's about establishing common ground and finding a third way. First, you sit down together and begin with principles each side can agree on. This will probably come to about 80 percent of the issue.  Then you identify the 20 percent that you will likely never be able to agree on and you leave that out – or preferably, find a new way both sides can agree on.  After you have the principles you work on the details, keeping what you can agree on and throwing out what you can't until you have legislation that is for and from both sides. That didn’t happen here.

Talk is cheap, but the latest economic bailout bill pushed through by the majority and three Republican senators is not. And if this is the description of bipartisan support, then the House, with every Republican and 11 Democrats voting no, must be bipartisan opposition.  This legislation is the single most expensive bill in the history of the United States and is being sold to the American people as a "compromise." Buyer beware.