HELENA – U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg said in a speech Friday that a “panic” in Washington, D.C., over the recession is leading to government overspending.
Republican Rehberg was back in Montana Friday speaking to a joint session of the state Legislature, where he explained his opposition to spending on stimulus and bailouts under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
Rehberg said so much money is being spent in Congress that it is hard to keep track of it all. Montana’s congressman-at-large said he understands the economy is hitting home, but said the focus should have been on tax cuts, not government programs.
“But panic ruled the day,” Rehberg told the state lawmakers. “The idea that it was the bailout or nothing is a false choice that politicians invented to justify their votes to irate constituents back home.”
He added, “Congress and the White House flailed around like a panicked swimmer.”
Rehberg said he has voted against all the corporate bailouts and stimulus spending because he thinks much of it is a waste of money that won’t stimulate the economy. Republicans stood and heartily clapped in endorsement of his opposition, while Democrats in the chamber sat silently.
“No one is suggesting that we do nothing, but it’s time to rethink the policies of panic,” he told the lawmakers. “Now, more than ever, we need bipartisan restraint.”
In an interview after the speech, Rehberg said the bailouts of large corporations like General Motors can only stall the inevitable failure of such companies, not stop it.
He said problems in the spending package are going to arise over time because Congress gave it little oversight, spent little time debating it and public backlash will only increase.
“With the stimulus package, they are just asking for it,” Rehberg said. “It’s fraught with problems.”
But Rehberg said Obama will continue to push measures through Congress during his first year while his popularity remains high, even if they could cause political problems for some Democrats in the 2010 elections. The Republican said Obama might not be able to so easily advance an agenda down the road.
“I think he’s taking advantage of his political capital now,” Rehberg said.
Rehberg said he and other Republicans in a deep minority in Congress must champion better ideas in the court of public opinion if they hope to affect legislation.
“Our goal has to be not just to say no, but if you do say no, offer a better solution, an alternative,” Rehberg said.
Spending of the $800 million in stimulus money being funneled through Montana has become the main focus of the Legislature. Much of it will go to roads, but other dollars will go to schools, human services and other programs.
Rehberg sided with fellow Republicans on the state level who want a new legislative committee set up to oversee spending of stimulus money. Democrats argue the Legislature is already accustomed to spending large amounts of federal money and will properly do so again without creating another panel.
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