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State and federal Republican legislators take opposite sides on stimulus

WASHINGTON — Many Florida Republicans in Congress are deriding the massive economic stimulus package coming before the House today as horribly bloated, woefully misdirected and unlikely to jump-start the economy.

Republican leaders in Tallahassee, however, are already counting the money.

In a neat little lesson about how much easier it is to cash the checks than to write them, Gov. Charlie Crist is urging Florida members of the U.S. House to vote for the $825 billion package today, while GOP leaders in the state Legislature hope to use some of the money to catch up on lagging infrastructure projects and shrink the expected $3 billion shortfall in next year's budget.

Meanwhile, the bill has received very little support from a prominent Republican in Congress. Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, voted against it in his committee and is expected to vote no. Connie Mack of Fort Myers, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate, plans to vote no, too.

Also leaning no are Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Adam Putnam of Bartow and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who also is pondering a run for the Senate, is likely to vote "nay" as well. Like many of his Republican colleagues, he favors using the bill to provide bigger tax cuts for individuals and businesses.

"It's becoming a bailout for a lot of state governments, and maybe plugs some holes in their budgets," Buchanan said Tuesday after President Obama met with House and Senate Republicans to recruit their support. "But I look at it as, 'Is it going to create jobs, is it going to help small business?' "

The House is expected to pass the stimulus package today; the Senate likely won't get to the bill until next week. It could change significantly before reaching President Obama's desk.

Bilirakis, a former member of the Florida House, said he sympathizes with his old pals, but he worries only a small fraction of the money will find its way into the economy this year. He also objects to some of the projects it funds, such as resodding the National Mall. (House leaders were negotiating Tuesday night to remove some controversial projects from the bill.)

"What I've been looking at is we need a short-term boost, and this is not going to do it," he said. "This is a long-term spending spree as far as I'm concerned."

Many Republicans in Tallahassee, however, believe a bailout is just what Florida needs. The bill calls for spending $26 billion in Florida over the next several years, directly for projects and indirectly through tax cuts.

The money also includes about $3.5 billion directed for the apparent shortfall in the next budget year, which begins July 1.

And it would allocate millions of dollars to roads and other public projects, and give $500 tax credits to most workers.

At a town hall meeting in Kissimmee Monday night, Crist likened the package to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to jump-start the economy during the Great Depression.

It "could have a tremendous impact on economic development, job growth and a better economy sooner," Crist said. "It's something that is a bridge toward the economy actually turning up."

Central to Crist's argument is Medicaid, the state and federal health insurance for the poor. Since 2003, the percentage of federal money pumped into the program has fallen from about 62 cents on the dollar to about 55 cents. Meanwhile, the worsening economy caused its rolls to grow by 100,000 more people than expected this year.

One of the two budget chiefs in the state House, Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera, said the state budget could use the extra money. He said the stimulus package fight was indicative of Washington's "history of gridlock."

Republicans aren't the only members of Congress with concerns about the long-term impact on the federal deficit or where the money is going. Rep. Allen Boyd, a North Florida Democrat, said it's not fair for the state legislators to look to Washington to rescue them.

"The Florida Legislature, led by Republicans, has been reducing revenues in the last several years, and now they're coming to us to fund their state programs," said Boyd, who is also considering running for the Senate. "I'm not sure how people reconcile that."

Marc Caputo of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.

State and federal Republican legislators take opposite sides on stimulus 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 5:42pm]
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