By Erik Wasson - 06/02/11 03:36 PM EDT
Democrats on the House Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee cried out for another economic stimulus package on Thursday, only to be jokingly dismissed by full committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).
“Yes, stimulus! We need a stimulus. We need to put people back to work,” ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) yelled. He demanded more money be pumped into Army Corps of Engineers projects such as dams and flood control.
“We haven’t tried that before,” Rogers joked, prompting laughs from GOP members, who say the 2009 stimulus package was a colossal waste of money.
Dicks said the sharp downturn in the stock market this week due to weak job growth numbers means the government needs to spend more.
“Cut and grow is going to turn out to be a huge mistake at the wrong time,” he said.
Reps. John Olver (D-Mass.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said they agreed that crucial investments should be made in the economy.
“I agree with Mr. Dicks. With bids coming in for infrastructure well below estimates for construction. … This is a time when we ought to be making investments,” Olver said. He said with 6.5 million jobs lost in the Great Recession, more needs to be done to get the economy going again.
Rogers countered that the economy is hurting because of a lack of confidence, and said passing the 12 appropriations bills with cuts that put the U.S. fiscal house in order will boost the financial markets. He acknowledged that the choices are painful.
“The austerity that the Congress and the country are being forced to go through is reflected loudly in this bill,” he said. “To pass along the huge deficit and indebtedness until our kids and grandkids is just immoral.”
“We tried the stimulus and obviously it didn’t work,” Rogers told The Hill. “I think what the country is looking for, particularly the business community that is looking to invest and grow jobs, is stability and a recognition that we have got a fiscal problem and are addressing it. That is what this appropriations process is all about.”
Dicks doubled down on his outburst when talking to reporters.
“When you look at yesterday’s stock market — I am not embarrassed to say it: We should be stimulating the economy,” Dicks told reporters. “My argument is we need to have restraint in spending once the economy is recovered, once we get people back to work.”
The debate came as the subcommittee reported out to full committee an Energy and Water appropriations bill that spends $30.6 billion, cutting spending by $1 billion compared to current levels and by $5.9 billion compared to President Obama’s budget request.
Most of the cuts come from the Department of Energy and renewable projects. Solar energy, fuel efficient vehicle funding, energy efficiency research, weatherization and biomass research and development are together set at $1.9 billion below Obama’s request. The Obama administration has made clean energy a signature issue for “winning the future.”
Rogers told The Hill that renewable energy needs to rely on the marketplace for growth.
“If renewables are to grow it is because there will be a profit incentive, not because the government spends money,” Rogers said
Dicks said he does not yet know if Democrats will offer amendments to the bill in full committee, whereas Fattah said he is looking at amendments related to community grants for energy efficiency and weatherization.
He is also working with colleagues to see if Mississippi flood control is adequately funded, but is not taking the lead on that. “The Mississippi doesn’t flow through Philadelphia,” he said.