Minnesota’s House Democrats unhappy with Senate package

President Obama urging quick action on his stimulus package during last night's news conference.
REUTERS/Larry Downing
President Obama urging quick action on his stimulus package during last night’s news conference.

WASHINGTON, D.C — The U.S. Senate narrowly passed the $838 billion economic stimulus bill today with only three Republicans on board and amid criticism from House Democrats over changes to the package that have reduced funding for schools and states.

“I think we have to vote for the best bill we can get our hands on,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on Monday. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that the Senate bill is that bill.”

The final vote was 61 to 37, with all the Democrats and three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Republicans from Maine, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) — voting for the bill.

While the House and Senate versions cost approximately the same amount, they differ significantly in their design — a fact that could slow House and Senate negotiations this week even as President Barack Obama campaigns around the country for the bill’s quick passage.

In broad terms, the Senate version of the stimulus relies more heavily on tax cuts and less on federal aid to states for health and education services, school construction, and home weatherization. 

Under the $819-billion House version, for example, Minnesota was slated to receive nearly $1 billion through the state fiscal stabilization fund. The Senate version would reduce that amount by about $550 million, wiping out roughly $400 million of flexible, general purpose, money, according to Curt Yoakum, legislative and communications director for Minnesota Management and Budget.

Rep. Keith Ellison
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Rep. Keith Ellison

“At this point, we don’t know for sure how much this messes around with our plans,” Yoakum said.

Although Minnesota would receive less through the state fiscal stabilization fund, there are still other parts of the stimulus that would funnel money toward the state.

A state-by-state breakdown of the total amounts that states would receive under the Senate version was not available by Monday night. Under the House version, Minnesota could have received a total of about $4.5 billion.

Cuts hit home in Minnesota
Across the board, however, the Senate’s version reduces the health care subsidy for premiums of people who are unemployed, lowers the number of low-income families that would qualify for the refundable child tax credit, cuts the funding for weatherization services, and does not include $19 billion for school construction.

On Monday night, the change in funding levels weighed heavily on the Rochester, Minn., school board members as they mulled over how, exactly, to cut out $9.3 million in costs without adversely affecting the quality of education at their schools.

Superintendent Romain Dallemand said that he was shocked that the money for schools in the stimulus had been decreased so substantially.

“The difference between our costs and our revenue is $14.9 million,” Dallemand said. “So the stimulus package is vital.”

But, the education funding, along with other spending measures, came under heavy criticism by Republicans and some conservative Democrats this month for not belonging in a bill primarily intended to create jobs and “stimulate” the economy.

Rep Collin Peterson
Rep Collin Peterson

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) mentioned the large amounts of education funding as one of the reasons that he voted against the bill that passed the House. The Blue Dog Democrat said that while he did not disagree with more school funding, he thought it should go through the normal appropriations process.

“The education funding may save some jobs, but I don’t agree with it being done in this way,” said Peterson.

‘We cannot get this wrong’
Some House Democrats, however, will be looking to restore some of the funding when the bill is negotiated this week between the House and the Senate.

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who represents the Rochester area, will specifically be petitioning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to increase the funding for education and law enforcement.

During an interview with MinnPost on Monday, Walz acknowledged the realities of the legislative process but said that he thought too many concessions had been made in the Senate.

“If it is not a resolution to honor mothers, it is hard to get us all to vote together, I understand the reality of compromise,” Walz said. “But we cannot get this wrong… I think there are some areas where we need to come back and renegotiate and stand firm.”

Rep. Tim Walz
Rep. Tim Walz

The decreased spending and increased emphasis on tax cuts, including $70 billion to prevent millions of middle-income families from having to pay the so-called alternative minimum tax in 2009, were inserted largely to gain the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to end debate on a bill.

On Friday, Specter acknowledged the criticism over the reduction in spending for health and education programs, but indicated that the perspective was wrong.

“They say there are cuts in important programs,” Specter said from the Senate floor. “Well, that is wrong. There are not cuts in important programs. If this bill is not passed, there will not be any appropriations. So you start from zero on Head Start, and you start from zero on child development.”

Bachmann: Bill misses the mark
For many Republicans in the Senate and House, however, the new bill does not go far enough in redirecting spending and increasing tax cuts.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said that the spending priorities were still misaligned with too little focused on transportation and infrastructure.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann

“While it’s nice to see more attention on tax breaks, which makes this package a little better than the House version, the fact remains that for a plan intended to create jobs and boost our economy, the Senate version still sorely misses the mark,” said Bachmann.

Still, as the House and the Senate move to hammer out an agreement this week, certain facts remain the same.

House Democrats do not need any Republicans, or even all Democrats, to pass the bill in the House. But, in the Senate, they need all the Democrats and at least two Republicans if Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has cancer, votes.

Keeping the moderate Senate Democrats and Republicans happy will thus be the critical consideration during negotiations.

“I would love to get the education back,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) after voting for a bi-partisan amendment on Monday that scaled back education funding, but was key to getting Republican support for the bill. “The issue is, how far can we go up and still retain those… Republican votes, because we can’t do it without them, and that’s just the nature of it.”

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Michelle Deziel on 02/10/2009 - 12:26 pm.

    I’m frustrated with some of the members of congress. It seems that Capitol Hill is out of touch with the American people. Some reps. seem very unaware of the daily grind and struggles that people through. I get tired of their lofty talk when people are being laid off, families are homeless, and people are without healthcare.

    The American people want the stimulus plan to pass but some reps. are into their ideologies. To me, they seem unaware of the reality that citizens face.

    I’m glad that Rep. Tim Walz will be petitioning the house to increase funding for education and law enforcement. I want Capitol Hill to see the average person as an investment and not a burden.

  2. Submitted by David Thompson on 02/10/2009 - 12:40 pm.

    I am alarmed at how out-of-touch the Republicans in Washington are. The economy is losing 19,000 jobs a day, and I am just not seeing any sense of urgency from them. I predict more layoffs in the Senate in 2010!

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 02/10/2009 - 01:01 pm.

    The Dems handled this quite poorly, especially from a PR point of view. They mixed their social agenda into the stimulus package which had the title “Stimulus”. It was easy for the Republicans to poke holes in it and point out those items that were needed and esired by the Dems — but clearly not stimulus activities.

    They might have been better off presenting two bills with different agendas. In that case they might have lessened the tax cut protion of the stimulus package as a negotiating point.

    Additionally, with Oabama new in office and relatively inexperienced in the interaction of the executive branch and congress — he decided to be a lover instead of a fighter. Give him credit for that — as he promised in his campaign; but should the GOP prove intractable, I suspect he will lose patience quickly, and use his legislative majority more effectively.

    At any rate, I do agree with those who say this new bill lacks some needed reform and funding if we are to effect the changes, Obama was elected to deliver.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/10/2009 - 03:42 pm.

    If the Senate bill passes, the reactionary right- wing members of that body will have achieved at least part of their goal to MAKE OBAMA LOOK BAD so people will elect Republicans next time.

    But how about America right now, guys?

  5. Submitted by Jim Koepke on 02/10/2009 - 04:55 pm.

    This stimulus plan is doomed to fail. Doubling the national debt – bad idea. If you want to stimulate the economy you don’t add a trillion dollars in debt – lower business taxes. Businesses will add jobs and increase production.

  6. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/10/2009 - 05:09 pm.

    “Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to end debate on a bill.”

    Off on a tangent, thanks Doug for getting that right. So many reporters keep saying it takes 60 to pass a bill.

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/10/2009 - 05:13 pm.

    Jim, lowering business taxes is part of what got us here. Think about it: money-losing businesses have no profits to cut taxes on, and profitable businesses already won’t expand or hire because they can’t sell their additional production. Stimulating the economy requires putting money in the hands of people who will spend it, which means the government has to hire people and prevent layoffs, and the private sector can’t do that right now. States can’t do that right now. Only the federal government can add demand to the economy.

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