For higher office, and away from their earlier statements about how much they hate the whole idea of the stimulus.
Feb. 20, 2009 | Voting against the economic stimulus package? That's so last week. For some Republicans, there's a hot new way to show just how fervently they opposed the $787 billion bill President Obama signed into law Tuesday: pretend they're not going to take the money.
Or, at least, make a lot of noise about maybe not wanting it. A handful of GOP governors are making headlines for saying they'd rather not or maybe shouldn't take the billions of dollars the stimulus package would rain down on their states. It's the logical extension of the Republican strategy on the bill, after all; only three Republicans in the Senate, and none in the House, voted for the legislation, after the party decided en masse that the plan would put the nation on the road to socialism. If the spending won't fix the national economy, the theory goes, it won't fix the local economy, either.
But despite the protests, the governors will almost certainly wind up taking the money anyway, just as states do with federal aid all the time. Some of the states whose governors have been the loudest voices against the stimulus cash already benefit heavily from federal spending or from lucrative private use of federal land for oil. So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided Thursday to accept the $17 billion his state has coming to it, after days of hemming and hawing about the handout. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page in November titled "Don't Bail Out My State," did the same. They're in good company; Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty criticized the plan loudly while Congress debated it, then said he owed it to his constituents to take it. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley stepped up his criticism of the bill after announcing he would take the $2 billion his state gets from it. Republicans in the House even boasted about the bacon the bill would bring home, after engineering a unanimous vote against it. When just about every state is in a financial crunch, thanks to the collapsing economy, it's hard to hold the line and actually turn down the cash. "It's fucking stupid," said one Republican consultant in Washington. "If the money's there, they'd be nuts to not take it ... If it's a question of, 'Hey, the money's going to be spent, so we might as well spend it in our state,' that's just nuts to turn it down."
Of course, in the bizarro world that is Republican politics in the age of Obama, turning down billions of dollars in federal aid might make political sense. "You could be a hero as the one guy who said no," said anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who thinks opposing the money could help establish fiscal conservative bona fides with the GOP base. "The longer you look at this [bill], the more it smells." Republicans who don't like the stimulus plan are likely to notice the high-profile complaints this week. "Some Republican governors aren't big on federal largesse even when it helps their own constituents," said GOP strategist Mark McKinnon, who says the holdouts against the money deserve credit for standing on principle. "Pretty bold, I'd say."
But in the end, refusing the money actually comes at very little cost; a provision in the stimulus law allows state legislatures to vote to accept the cash even if the governors don't formally request it. What's playing out this week, then, among the Republican refuseniks may be more about politics than policy. Here are six of the more vocal Republicans who pretended to just say no, and the amount of stimulus money they pretended to decline.
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