Washington Matters


Stimulus Still a Hot Political Item


You can breathe a sigh of relief now. Jim Tedisco has decided how he feels about the $787 billion stimulus plan. The Republican candidate for the House seat in New York that was left vacant when Kirsten Gillibrand took over the state's open Senate seat is against it. After a month of internal debate (i.e. polling and focus groups), he has decided that had he been in the House when the vote was taken, he would have joined all the other Republicans in voting against the measure.

Tedisco, the GOP leader in the New York state assembly, should be a runaway favorite in the race against a relative unknown, Democrat Scott Murphy, who has never run for office before. But polls ahead of the March 31 special election show a tight race. A Siena Research Institute poll taken March 9-10, puts Tedisco ahead 45-41, within the margin of error. Apparently Tedisco decided that was close enough to concentrate on shoring up his conservative base and risk losing independents, who seem glad to have the federal money.

The stimulus is also showing up in what may be a precursor to the 2012 presidential race. On Monday, the Obama administration rejected a request from South Carolina Republican Gov. -- and likely presidential candidate -- Mark Sanford to use $700 million of the stimulus to retire state debt rather than for its intended purpose of shoring up key state accounts, especially education. South Carolina has a 10.4% unemployment rate, second highest in the nation, and is facing major budget cuts, likely forcing the layoffs of as many as 4,000 teachers. Sanford hasn't given up the fight to use the money for debt payoffs, but he says if he loses, he'll turn down the money.

That position may serve him well in 2012, allowing him to run as a principled conservative who doesn't want his state to rely on federal bailouts. Of course, he hasn't asked the unemployed or the kids in crowded classrooms how they feel about it.  Fortunately for them, Sanford's move won't have any real effect. The state legislature, led by fellow Republicans, is already moving to bypass the governor and take the money, a fact that Sanford obviously knew and which made his "principled stand" a little less real or risky.

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Sanford and other Republican governors have turned down other parts of the stimulus -- mostly unemployment benefits tied to changing the law so that part-time workers who lose jobs or that people who quit to be near relocated spouses are eligible. Some think this is a bit unfair. Many people who lost full-time jobs were forced to settle for part-time jobs and then when the economy got worse, they lost those. Do we want to send a message that they should have just taken the unemployment checks instead of settling for part-time work?  And do we really want a policy that could separate families?

Those who say no to the stimulus will eventually have a chance to convince the voters that they made the right decision. In Tedisco's case, that will happen very soon. It'll take a while longer for Sanford, but unfortunately, it won't be the people of South Carolina who decide -- it'll be the Republican base that influences the nomination fight. Stay tuned.

 



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