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Specter Comments on the Stimulus Package Substitute


Location: Washington, DC

Specter Comments on the Stimulus Package Substitute

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) today made the following comments on the floor of the United States Senate concerning a substitute proposal to the stimulus package:

Madame President, I begin with the enormously serious economic problems facing the United States: an unemployment rate which is rising, 2.8 million jobs lost last year, thousands of people losing their jobs every day, and recognizing the very heavy psychological factor which is at work, cited for the destruction of consumer confidence. The eyes and the ears of the world are on the United States, on the United States government, and on the United States Senate tonight to see whether we will be able to respond to the magnitude of the problem. The psychological impact if we were to reject some activist approach, I think, would be devastating not only on Wall Street and Main Street but all across the face of the globe.

Based on the telephone calls which I've gotten in my office, this is a very unpopular vote. Perhaps the tide will turn, but the calls are mounting from one end of the political spectrum saying there are too many expenditures, and the calls are mounting on the other end of the political spectrum saying that there is not enough money being spent on proposals which we are advancing here tonight. Perhaps the tide will turn upon reflection and on analysis of the program which we're setting forth here.

Perhaps the tide will turn as exemplified by a letter issued today from the United States Chamber of Commerce, a principal spokesman for corporate America and a principal spokesman for conservative America. The Chamber says this: they're for this legislation because the economy continues to deteriorate. The Chamber is for the bill because it supports pro-growth tax initiatives. The Chamber is for the bill because it applauds the inclusion of tax relief. The Chamber is for the bill because many of the spending-side provisions in the legislation will also provide stimulus to get Americans back to work, focusing on infrastructure spending for roads, rails, public transportation, aviation, inland waterways and ports.

I have already noted certain grave concerns which I have. One is the rush to judgment which we're a part of. And perhaps a necessary part, when President Obama came to speak to the Republican caucus recently, when my turn came to ask a question, I said "why are you wedded to February 13th? That's too fast to digest a bill of this magnitude." I said that we had passed a $700 billion bailout bill, TARP, where we didn't know what was in the bill, and we didn't have regular order, hearings, questions, cross-examination, or committee work on the markup line-by-line of the committee report. We didn't even have floor debate. We made a lot of mistakes. They were compounded by the administration carrying it out.

I voted against the release of the second $350 billion. I said, Mr. President, let's not do it again. There is nothing magical about February 13th before we start the week of recess for President's Day. The President responded, emphasizing the severe nature of the problem and telling us all, which he has told us privately, about the serious problems which he sees, which his advisors see with any delay at all. So we are responding to his timetable. I don't like it, but I'm responding to it.

There are other aspects of this bill which give me heartburn. There is a lot in this bill which ought to be part of the regular Appropriations process. I served for 10 years as Chairman of the subcommittee funding the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education. I have fought hard for many of the items that are in this bill that ought not to be in this bill. They ought to be part of the regular appropriations process where we set an overall budget and we fight it out on priorities. But they're here because the administration and the bill proposed by the Committee has seen fit to include them.

What have we accomplished here in the amendment which is being offered now? This bill coming to the floor, and these figures are pretty close - they're hard to be exact - but the bill starts with $885 billion. There are add-ons on the floor of $29.5 billion. The bill as it's being reported is $781, perhaps $780. So we have reduced the expenditures by $105 billion. That's a lot of money. And that is something which makes everybody angry.

But that's the position you're in if you're a United States Senator. People are unhappy because they didn't get the full amount from the Committee report, although absent this bill they get zero additional. People are unhappy about spending too much money, but it is imperative, as I see it, that we do something very, very substantial.

There are reasons to argue that this is a bad bill. I'm not saying it's a bad bill; I'm saying there are reasons to argue that it's a bad bill. But I do not believe that there is any doubt that the economy would be enormously worse off without it. That's the kind of a choice we have to make.

Personally I would prefer not to be on the edge of the pin as so frequently is the case in this body. But I do believe that we have to act, and I believe that under all of the circumstances, this is the best we can do and we ought to do it.

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