U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today voted against an economic stimulus plan that she said was excessive, not sufficiently stimulative and leaves states on the hook for future spending.
The bill passed the Senate 61 - 37 and now goes to a joint Senate-House conference committee where lawmakers will iron out differences in the two chambers' versions. Congress must then vote on the new measure before sending it to the White House.
"Today's vote on another bailout should be viewed among a series of Federal bailouts and stimulus spending which have topped $2 trillion since last February -- $700 billion in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds, $323 billion in AIG and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailouts, a $168 billion stimulus measure enacted last year and now another $838 billion stimulus comprised mostly of spending," Murkowski said.
"If these past government bailouts are any indication of what this latest stimulus measure means for the economic future of America, I believe that it will only be a matter of months before the president looks to Congress for yet another trillion dollar spending bill. We have not taken the time to ensure that this quickly passed bill actually gets the job done, and the stakes are too high for us not to get this right."
Murkowski said that a stimulus bill is needed to revive the economy, create jobs and get more Americans back to work, but that many of the provisions in the Senate measure won't have an immediate impact on the economy.
"So much of the funding items in this bill spend money we don't have on things we don't need," she said.
As the ranking Republican on the Senate and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski said she has looked carefully at the energy portion of the stimulus package. While there are some good parts that would help America become more energy efficient, the bill raises the potential for wasting tens of billions of taxpayers dollars in careless spending.
"For the most part, the amounts of money allocated to programs specified in the bill are completely unprecedented. This is reflected in an estimate released by the Congressional Budget Office less than a week ago, which concluded that the Department of Energy would only be able to spend 24 percent of the funding contained in this bill within the two-year deadline," Murkowski said.
The bill also would allocate $4.5 billion for the "smart grid" program, which would improve the technology capabilities of the existing power grid. Smart Grid was authorized at $100 million in the 2007 Energy Bill, and has received zero funding to date.
"Is it possible to expect that this program can spend $4.5 billion in two years in a rational way?" Murkowski said. "We first need to develop standards for the smart grid program before we start just throwing money at it."
Murkowski acknowledged there is money in the legislation that would benefit Alaska, but she said a short term cash infusion doesn't outweigh the long term financial burden the legislation places on future generations and state and local governments.
"This stimulus bill puts an "unfunded mandate" on states and local governments that, after the two-year funding dries up, could be left paying for these new programs, new jobs and new services or be forced to eliminate them altogether," Murkowski said. "As an example, one Alaskan school superintendent expressed concern that increasing and then decreasing services to students with disabilities would actually open his district to lawsuits."
Murkowski urged Senate and House conferees to craft a compromise bill that fixes housing and focuses more on tax credits for families and spending on infrastructure that will help put people back to work.
"One of the perverse aspects of this bill is our backwards sense of priorities," she said. "We spend large amounts of money for programs that have limited stimulative value, but too little money on projects that are proven to create jobs such as highway infrastructure, which only commands 3.2 percent of the bill's total spending," Murkowski said.