Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday that Congress has acted to help Wall Street but must do more to provide assistance to the middle class.
Reid called for extending unemployment benefits, expanding home energy assistance, creating jobs with federally funded public works projects, assisting states that face budget shortfalls and making bankruptcy relief accessible to homeowners facing foreclosure. He said the Senate would take up the package of Democratic proposals after the Nov. 4 election.
Reid noted that the plans parallel those announced earlier by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, "who deserves credit for leading the national discussion with a steady hand during this challenging time."
Action, he said, cannot wait until the next president is inaugurated and the next Congress begins. "Sixty days is a lot of days when you’ve got foreclosure staring you in the face, when you’ve got unemployment staring you in the face," he said at a news conference presenting the proposals at a library on Flamingo Road in Las Vegas.
Nevada, Reid noted, has especially high rates of foreclosures and unemployment. One recent analysis found Nevada was harder hit than any other state by the current recession.
With so many people out of work, Reid said, unemployment benefits should be made available for longer periods of time and exempted from income tax. Meanwhile, he said "good-paying jobs" could be created by the federal government with a massive infusion of funding to transportation infrastructure programs, putting people to work repairing roads and bridges.
Reid’s office put the price tag for the public-works proposal at around $150 billion.
Some conservatives oppose such dramatic increases in government spending in a time of economic difficulty.
Reid said government jobs create a multiplier effect, increasing the pool of taxpayers and the service economy that surrounds them. "Frankly, we make money on the deal, the federal government makes money on the deal," he said, pointing to the Hoover Dam and the Nevada Test Site as federally funded undertakings that expanded Nevada’s economy.
Further, he said, recent events have ratified the need for government as an oversight body and safety net. "I think we’ve come to the realization, in this modern world, that when something bad happens like 9/11, where do you turn?" he said. "There are other places to turn. In fact, I can think of three: your family, whatever your god is and government. Government hasn’t been involved much in recent years. We’ve got to get government back in, taking part in people’s lives."
Even conservative Republicans, he said, are now calling for better regulation of Wall Street and some industries.
Reid’s proposals also include allowing people who own only one home to get the same bankruptcy relief that those with multiple homes do. "If you have seven homes — I just happened to pick that number out of the air — you can get relief for six of them," he said, in an implied jab at Republican presidential nominee John McCain, whose family is reported to own seven residential properties.
Asked whether his proposals stand a chance of being approved by President Bush, Reid alluded to the fact that the election is expected to result in major Democratic gains in both houses of Congress, which he suggested would give a mandate to the party’s ideas. "I think he’s (Bush) going to have to think twice," Reid said.
Reid noted that the Republicans’ leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner of Ohio, recently expressed support for measures to stimulate the economy.
Boehner has proposed alternative economic measures, but has called Democrats’ plans to spend more to fix the economy "pork-barrel spending masquerading as ‘stimulus.’"
Reid was accompanied at the news conference by state Treasurer Kate Marshall, who spoke to the effects the financial crisis is having on Nevada, as well as three Las Vegans who testified to the fallout they’re experiencing.
Carolyn Essex, 48, said she and her husband were victims of a foreclosure scam on a house they believed they were renting to own.
Aaron Schropp, 29, said the restaurant he founded a year ago, the Canvas Cafe, has struggled because people don’t have discretionary income to spend.
High-school teacher Isaac Barron, 39, said his house has lost more than $100,000 in value, while his middle-class neighborhood has been decimated by foreclosures.
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee responded to Reid’s proposals by saying Democrats such as Obama haven’t shown leadership to fix the economy.
"Last week John McCain addressed the root of the financial crisis by assuring Americans that in a McCain administration the economic rescue package would directly benefit Main Street and bring stability back to markets," Bill Riggs said.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.