So far, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's most memorable contributions to the massive effort to bail out the financial system and resuscitate the economy have been a couple of inflammatory and misleading quotes.
Which is a shame, because she has some good ideas on both these issues.
Of course, they didn't show up in her attention-seeking, fear-stoking sound bites.
First, she called October's $700 billion bailout of lending institutions "extortion'' that "aided foreign banks.''
Maybe foreign investors, but not the banks themselves, according, to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense; it has compiled a long list of financial companies benefitting from the bill. So far, all are based in the United States.
Then, last week, Brown-Waite attacked the House of Representatives' $819 billion financial stimulus package (which passed without a single Republican vote) as "a pork-ridden bailout that produces few jobs, sends billions to corrupt organizations like ACORN and does nothing to put money back into the hands of American taxpayers.''
Wrong again, said Keith Ashdown, senior investigator for Common Sense. No money is directly earmarked for that favorite Republican whipping boy, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, and the bill prevents funding of suspect groups.
Also, about one-third of the package, $275 billion, will go to tax cuts that certainly seem to put money back in our hands — though it may be the least efficient part of the entire deal: Only about 15 percent of last year's tax rebates went to spending that helped boost the economy.
It was almost as though a different Brown-Waite showed up at the Hernando Times editorial board last fall, a moderate with the instincts and ideas to help find a bipartisan solution to this crisis.
Explaining her vote against the bailout — a position widely criticized for courting economic disaster — she said the bill showed too much trust in incompetent, arrogant bankers who had created this mess.
Given the banks' continued hoarding of government funds and doling out executive bonuses, who can argue with that?
Also at that meeting, recorded by one of my colleagues, she outlined the kind of spending she would support:
"Right now, we need to have a bill that stimulates the economy and creates jobs, not just one that sends checks to people. (Doesn't sound like a call for drastic tax cuts, does it?) I would say roads, bridges — let's start construction up again. That to me should be the cornerstone.''
Brown-Waite couldn't support the current stimulus partly because only $30 billion goes to highway projects, said her press secretary, Charlie Keller, and, in a statement backed by the Wall Street Journal, he said Florida's per-capita share of this money is the second-lowest of any state.
Fair enough. And, generally, I agree that too much money is going to existing government programs Democrats have long backed, and not enough to building the foundation for a new economy, which I thought this bill was supposed to be all about.
But considering the depth of the crisis, the Republican strategy was even more disappointing. They sidelined themselves with unrealistic demands for deep tax cuts, and then let fly with partisan potshots. And Brown-Waite was happy to join them.