Ensign: Stimulus bill 'encourages more wasteful spending'

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on Sunday rejected the compromise $820 billion economic stimulus bill reached Friday in the Senate, although he said he expects it will pass Congress sometime this week.

Ensign said Republicans will try to delay passage and that it would be better for Congress to pass no bill than one that was formed between Senate Democrats and a handful of Republican senators.

"You don't get do-overs with $1 trillion," he said. "If you get this thing wrong, $1 trillion isn't like, 'Well, we did it wrong; we'll try it again.'"

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Ensign also was critical of provisions in the bill he said would force states to spend more in order to qualify for certain stimulus accounts. He said the bill "just encourages more wasteful spending."

On education, the stimulus bill requires states to be spending no less on schools than they were in 2006. A problem emerged in Nevada last week when Democratic state legislators questioned whether the state would qualify for $500 million in grants if they approved steep budget cuts being proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

President Barack Obama has urged lawmakers to act swiftly on the giant package of tax cuts, government spending and aid to the states in a strategy to attack the recession.

The votes that GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania pledged on Friday would provide Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada the 60 votes that would be needed for passage. The Senate is expected to vote on Tuesday.

Ensign said there is still too much "long-term" spending that will not create jobs. Although the weekend compromise cut more than $100 billion, he said more should be eliminated but did not give a number.

The Nevadan appeared on a panel with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Ensign said Congress should have taken "a couple of weeks, sitting down with both parties. ... We should've done this from the beginning, sat down in a bipartisan fashion and bring the best ideas to the table."

But McCaskill said that is exactly what negotiators did as Democrats reached out and compromised.

Frank said Republicans "pushed things through" when they controlled Congress and the White House during the Bush administration.

"There was none of this concern that one-party rule was a bad thing," he said. "Now that they're not the party, they've decided that that's a bad idea."

Frank said funding in the stimulus bill would allow public workers to stay on the job. "If you keep cops and firefighters and teachers from being laid off, you're improving the quality of life, I think, or preventing a deterioration," he said.

"That's just fear mongering," Ensign responded. He said state spending has grown faster than inflation and population growth "probably about the last 15 years."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault @stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.