WASHINGTON — Nevada Democrats on Tuesday joined a campaign to build momentum for a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus plan being formed by President-elect Barack Obama, and challenged the state’s two Republicans in Congress to get behind it as well.
In Nevada, with unemployment at 8 percent and a home foreclosure rate that continues to top the nation, Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson said, “We believe we are experiencing at least as much the brunt of the economic downturn as anyone. We realize something has to be done.”
State Sen. Bob Coffin of Las Vegas, Assemblyman David Bobzien of Reno and North Las Vegas Councilwoman Stephanie Smith also took part in a telephone conference call to endorse the package, expected to be unveiled in the coming days, and put pressure on Sen. John Ensign and Rep. Dean Heller, both Nevada Republicans, to support it.
The event was part of a national campaign organized by the Campaign for Jobs and Economic Recovery, a coalition of labor unions and progressive interest groups seeking to build support for Congress to pass a stimulus bill to jump-start the economy.
Besides the Nevadans, local Democrats in 11 other states, including Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota, held similar events to promote the recovery plan and pressure Republicans to support it.
David Axelrod, Obama’s political adviser, said over the weekend that the president-elect will propose to spend between $675 billion and $775 billion over two years, and Democrats in Congress are expected to add $75 billion in spending.
A large part of the stimulus bill is expected to fund public works projects as a strategy to create jobs. The bill also is expected to funnel aid to embattled state governments, and include selected tax breaks aimed at middle-income families and individuals.
While most Democrats in Congress are expected to back the measure and a plan to pass it quickly, Republican leaders have signaled they do not want to rush into spending such large sums.
Nevada Democratic leaders said delay would be a mistake.
“I would hate to think that a member of the Senate from our state is holding things up,” Coffin said. “These votes that take a little courage pay off in the long run.”
“We have to move quickly on these projects,” Bobzien said. “There are jobs for Nevadans, and our economy is teetering right now.”
In Southern Nevada, officials at the Clark County Regional Transportation Commission have said 60 road building and repair projects totaling $1 billion could be started within 180 days with stimulus funds.
The city of Las Vegas and other local governments also have put together wish lists for federal funding.
Republican lawmakers said they plan to examine the bill closely.
“As a steward of the taxpayers’ money, I plan to take a careful and deliberate approach to this trillion-dollar proposal,” Ensign said. “It needs to fit the bill of money spent wisely and effectively to truly boost our struggling economy.”
In a statement, Heller said he won’t be pressured. He said such tactics do not sound like the change Obama stressed in his presidential campaign.
“As we ring in the New Year, Democrats and Republicans should work together to solve our state and nation’s problems, not revert back to partisan political stunts that have been rejected by the American people,” Heller said.
“Asking support for legislation that has not been introduced is irresponsible. Any stimulus package that comes before Congress should be pro-growth, promote investment in the United States, and create jobs. It should not include excessive deficit spending and be full of special interest pork projects.”
Democratic leaders including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada want to have a bill passed and ready for Obama to sign as soon as possible after he is sworn into office on Jan. 20.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House leader John Boehner said this week that Congress should hold hearings on the bill, entertain GOP amendments and post it on the Internet for at least a week for public review.
“A trillion-dollar spending bill would be the largest spending bill in the history of our country at a time when our national debt is already the largest in history,” McConnell said. “As a result, it will require tough scrutiny and oversight. Taxpayers, already stretched to the limit, deserve nothing less.”
Nevada Democrats were critical of such statements.
“There is nothing wrong with putting something on the Internet,” Smith said, but in this case, “the issue of putting it out and waiting is a red herring” for delay.
Bobzien said the Republicans are “flexing their muscles in the form of a potential filibuster. I would hate to see that tactic used just to make a point.”
Coffin said Republicans did not hesitate to move quickly on bills to fund the Iraq war.
Reid intends to work with Republicans on the stimulus bill, according to his spokesman, Jim Manley.
“It is essential that we pass legislation to help create jobs and get our economy back on track. Senator Reid understands that the only way that we can do so is with the cooperation of Senate Republicans, and he intends to work on a bipartisan basis to pass an economic recovery package.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.