This is United States Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
As I speak to you today, Americans from Alaska to Florida are grappling with a very difficult economy. Over the past 14 months, more than 3.6 million workers have lost their jobs, half of them since October. Over the same three-month period, the U.S. economy experienced its worst quarterly decline in 26 years. This is why President Obama called on Congress some weeks ago to pass an economic stimulus plan that would seek to jumpstart the economy and to prevent, as best it could, an even deeper economic spiral.
Republicans have been supportive of a stimulus plan all along. Yet, over the past few weeks, a serious difference of opinion has emerged over what an economic recovery plan should include. Democrats, it seems, settled on a random dollar amount in the neighborhood of $1 trillion and then set out to fill the bucket. Republicans, on the other hand, thought that we should figure out what was at the root of the problem, and then see how much it would cost to fix. Since most economists agree that falling home prices are the root of the current troubles, we proposed a plan that would reduce monthly mortgage payments and make it easier to buy a home. The Republican proposal had the added benefit of being about half the cost of the Democrat plan. But Democrats control Congress, which means they got to choose which approach to use. And earlier this week, they hashed out the final details of a bill that, as some of them like to point out, was written almost entirely by them.
All Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, want our economy to recover. The question is: Will this plan work? In this regard, the President’s own top economist, Larry Summers, has said that in order for a stimulus plan to work, it must be timely, targeted, and temporary. And, in many ways, the plan that Democrats in Congress approved this week is none of the above. It’s not timely because less than half the discretionary spending in this bill will reach its intended target within the next two years. It’s not targeted because much of the money isn’t even directed where it’s needed most. Much of the spending is wasteful, including hundreds of millions for new government cars and golf carts. And some of it places new burdens on already-strapped local and state governments. One Alaska school superintendent said that the increased funding means new services in his district, but that once the stimulus funding runs out he won’t be able to pay for them. And canceling some of these programs once they’ve been created, he said, would expose his district to lawsuits.
Finally, the bill isn’t temporary because it calls for a permanent expansion of government that could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal budget every year.
All of this is cause for serious concern. But Republicans are also concerned about this bill because we simply don’t have the money to waste. Keep in mind: the $1.1 trillion we spend on the stimulus is not Monopoly money — all of it is borrowed. Some might say the total cost of this bill is lower than $1.1 trillion. They’re not including the interest payments.
Where is all of this money going to come from? Well, the government pays its bills by selling promissory notes and by printing money. Who will buy these notes? They will be bought by countries that already hold enormous sums of U.S. debt — countries like China. And remember, this is just one part of the recovery plan Democrats are proposing. The other parts, as outlined this week by Treasury Secretary Geithner, include $50 billion for housing, and unspecified hundreds of billions — possibly even another trillion dollars — for troubled banks, and to relieve financial institutions of so-called toxic assets. All this spending adds up, and has to be paid back — paid back by our children and their children. And, as of now, the American people don’t have the facts about the total cost.
As a mother, I can say from experience that it doesn’t make much sense to plan the family vacation before you figure out whether you can afford it. Yet that’s just what Democrats seem to be doing. If Americans can’t be assured that these programs will work, they should at least be told what they’re going to cost. Taxpayers need to know what Washington is doing with their money. And as Republicans continue to pursue policies that strengthen our economy and create jobs, we’ll insist that taxpayers aren’t only protected — but also well informed. Republicans in Congress have pledged to work with the majority party. It’s my hope that they take us up on our offer as we closely monitor how and where this money is spent.
Thanks for listening.