Congress starts wading through stimulus opinions
LOVELAND, Colorado ” Taxes need to be lowered to save an economy in trouble. Or raised. Or maybe left alone.
As the House readies to begin a bruising debate next week over a gigantic economic stimulus proposal by President Barack Obama, Congress members are getting an earful about how to proceed.
Some want the government to use more money to repair roads and bridges. Others say health care should be the top priority. Or public schools. Or higher education. Or tax cuts. Or new traffic lights.
As dizzying as the president’s proposed $825 billion plan is, opinions about it are just as hard to sort out. In Loveland, about an hour north of Denver, more than 40 people packed a small coffee shop Saturday morning to lob opinions at freshman Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey.
For more than an hour, Markey waded through the crowd trying to reassure skeptics that Congress will come up with a plan to repair the economy. At times, she seemed to be selling even herself.
“Tell you the truth, I’m scared,” Markey confided with a smile to one voter who asked about getting right the largest spending plan in anyone’s memory.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Markey, holding her first public meeting since taking office earlier this month. “We need to be thoughtful and make the right decisions. But we’re also in a crisis, and we need to act quickly.”
Even in the small room, opinions were broad on what the economic stimulus package should look like. As soon as one woman complained that stimulus money should be spent to upgrade a local interstate highway, a man standing next to her insisted the money should be spent instead on mass transit.
“Shift us to mass transit instead of pouring concrete and more concrete,” said retired software engineer Bob Massaro, 65, shaking his head.
Later in the meeting, one voter complained that more stimulus money is needed for transportation. Then his neighbor said the whole plan was a boondoggle, that the government should spend nothing and “just get out of the way of capitalism.” The second fellow was so distraught he left the coffee shop before Markey finished talking about the plan.
Opinions are strong about how the government should go about repairing an economy in shambles. Colorado state lawmakers peppered Markey and three other Democratic congressmen with questions for hours on Friday. They wanted to know how the plan would help state government, from keeping open public colleges to teaching students with handicaps.
In Washington, Obama stepped up his pitch for a package that the House will start working on Wednesday. The president used his first radio and Internet address from the White House Saturday to push for approval, and he had no shortage of statistics to make his claim.
The United States lost 2.6 million jobs last year, the most in any single year since World War II. One in 10 homeowners is at risk of foreclosure. Obama’s economists say unemployment could top 10 percent before the recession ends.
Back in Colorado, Markey conceded to a jittery crowd that Obama’s plan is not a sure thing.
“We’re taking a gamble here, and we don’t have any assurances,” Markey said. “But if we do nothing, the economy will continue to spiral down.”
Her pitch didn’t sell everyone, but the crowd sat transfixed for the entire question-and-answer period. Even the baristas at the coffee shop stopped work to listen. After more than an hour of listening to how the recovery would work, one barista shrugged, sighed heavily and glanced into a tip jar by the register before turning to brew another pot. The congresswoman conceded there are more questions than answers about a recovery plan.
“This is the beginning of a long conversation,” Markey assured voters. “We’ve got daunting problems in this country.”