Obama fails to sway Ensign, Heller on stimulus bill

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met with Republicans in Congress today to drum up support for his economic stimulus package but was not able to sway Nevada’s two Republicans to his side.

Rep. Dean Heller said he plans to vote against the $825 billion bill when it reaches the House floor Wednesday. He maintains that the bill contains billions of dollars in new spending that is not going to create jobs, but will force the government to borrow record sums and dig the nation deeper into debt.

Likewise, Sen. John Ensign said he has problems with the legislation as it is taking shape in the Senate. Its spending levels are "obscene," he said, and he also questioned whether proposed tax breaks will be the most effective.

Obama’s trip to Capitol Hill came on the eve of the first major House vote on the stimulus strategy that he proposed and that was adapted into legislation largely by Democrats.

Nevada Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus have said they will vote for the stimulus in hopes its combination of pump-priming spending and tax cuts for families and businesses will jump-start the economy.

Likewise, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada has been guiding the Democratic efforts as Senate majority leader.

In critiquing the Obama plan, Ensign and Heller took particular exception to the funding that would be sent to state and local governments — a feature that Gov. Jim Gibbons has said could be the most helpful for Nevada to plug gaps in its budget as it struggles through the economic crisis.

The package would send $200 billion to state governments, which are being called the big winners in the Obama plan. Nevada’s share is projected at $1.3 billion, according to analyses cited by the governor’s aides.

According to Ensign, "the amounts of money we are giving to the states is obscene."

"States have increased spending over the last six or seven years at a much higher rate than inflation and a much higher rate than population growth," he said. "The states, while they may need some help, the amount of help we are giving them is excessive.

"I am sure this bill is going to pass and I am sure they are going to get their help," Ensign said. "I just think we should be thinking about the debt that we are building."

Similarly, Heller said he was troubled that the federal government essentially will be borrowing money to bail out the states.

By doing that, "we are just creating a long-term, much larger problem," Heller said.

The Nevada Republicans praised Obama for the personal appearances he made separately with House and Senate members.

"We got more opportunity for feedback in that half hour than we have had in the last two weeks with the Democrats in the House leadership," Heller said.


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

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