In the wake of President-elect Barack Obama's comments on the stimulus package, Republican congressional leaders voiced their support for his general plan but also urged that the cost be considered in the context of the country's deficit, which is expected to reach a record $1.2 trillion this year.
In some ways, remarks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner seemed to echo yesterday's statements by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, particularly in their urging that any steps toward a stimulus package be deliberate, cautious, and temporary. "We agree it ought to be done relatively soon—but not overnight, with no oversight and no transparency," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell also warned against using the package as an excuse to swell the size of government. "Let's don't use the obvious need to pass a stimulus package as a way to make the problem worse," such as by introducing "long-term, systemic spending changes," he said.
Unlike the Chamber of Commerce, however, McConnell and Boehner drove home the danger of passing a $1 trillion bill on top of the deepening budget deficit. Using the term "eye-popping" to describe the deficit several times, they emphasized that the economy could only be rescued in the long term if future generations did not wind up saddled in debt.
Although they did not offer a specific cost that they would find palatable for the stimulus, McConnell said that it "really ought not to be a trillion-dollar spending bill."
"Yes, our economy needs help. But at the end of the day, how much debt are we going to pile onto future generations?" asked Boehner.
As for a timeline, McConnell said he thought all hearings and debates on the bill could be held before February recess. Although he called it a "reasonable definition of 'quick' around here," it's a far cry from Democrats' initial hopes to get the bill to Obama for his first day in office. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi warned yesterday that if the stimulus hasn't been passed in Congress by February 16, she'll cancel the February recess.
If they're skittish on the potential price tag, however, the Republicans seemed happier about one of the key components thought to make up Obama's plan—tax cuts. Tax breaks are thought to make up 40 percent of Obama's plan, although the only specificity of today's speech was a $1,000 tax cut to middle-class families.
Overall, McConnell said, they're pleased with the level of inclusion and communication they've had with the incoming administration. "At the end of the day, Republican senators represent 50 percent of the American population," McConnell said. "We expect to be part of the process and we will be part of the process. I think the new president respects that."