Congressman Jerry Lewis warned Thursday that Congress will never support a "stimulus" plan that adds hundreds of billions to the national debt with no guarantee that it will create any immediate jobs. Lewis urged the administration to develop a list of truly "shovel-ready" projects and focus on incentives to get private industry hiring again.
"When the last "stimulus" plan was being discussed two years ago, the original proposal was going to be $300 to $400 billion, mostly for infrastructure work much like what is being urged today by the President," said Lewis, who was House Appropriations Committee ranking member at the time and is currently chairman emeritus of the committee. "I was willing to discuss such a package and work to ensure that it indeed created the greatest number of jobs quickly for the least cost to taxpayers."
"I learned that, as always, the devil is in the details," Lewis said. "That stimulus bill ballooned to nearly $1 trillion, with even less devoted to true infrastructure projects that would produce jobs in a hurry. Some of those infrastructure projects -- like the expansion of Interstate 215 in San Bernardino -- began right away and have provided the construction jobs we hoped for. But the vast majority are still in the planning stages and we won't see those jobs for years."
Tens of billions from that stimulus have been devoted to high-speed rail lines, which won't create construction jobs for as much as a decade, Lewis noted. Tens of billions more went to "green" industry support, again with few new jobs coming in short order. In fact, a solar industry company that received a $529 million federal loan has gone bankrupt -- partially because of a glut of solar panels on the market.
The report last Friday that showed no gains in new employment and no reduction in the national unemployment rate emphasized that the $1 trillion stimulus approved under the former congressional majority has had little effect other than to add to the runaway federal debt, he said.
"We know that Americans are trying to get their own fiscal houses in order, reducing their debt rather than spending on new items," Lewis said. "There is no doubt that Americans are insisting that the federal government get its own fiscal situation under control."
"I am firmly convinced that a huge new stimulus package that adds to the deficit would cause Americans to become even more uneasy about their government's financial future -- and their own -- and would slow our recovery rather than speed it up," Lewis said. "We need to make it easier for private industry to add jobs, not splash even more wasteful government spending around the country."
Lewis said he will be working with the Republican leadership in the House to pass a package of regulatory reforms that will allow businesses of all sizes to reduce the time it takes to begin work on projects and hire workers to produce the products.
He urged the Senate and administration to move forward more quickly on trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, noting that exports have been a bright spot in the economy.
He criticized the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies for moving forward with restrictions that will almost certainly add to the cost of business and reduce the chance for new jobs. He vowed to back a package of bills in the House that will limit the scope of new environmental controls until the economic recovery has moved forward.
Finally, Lewis said he looks forward to a dialogue on tax reform that will provide incentives to small businesses to hire more workers. That discussion should also include whether the payroll tax cuts that are set to expire have had an influence on economic recovery, or whether other tax reductions might be more effective.