By Cosby Woodruff
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said less than 20 percent of the more-than-$800 billion economic stimulus packages now in Congress are worthwhile and that he takes pride in leading Senate opposition to the plan.
His biggest regret is that not enough Republican senators stuck together to kill it, he said Monday at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce's first Eggs and Issues breakfast of the year.
Shelby, who was equally identified for his opposition to the automotive bailout late last year, said he wasn't concerned about becoming seen as the Senate's "Mr. No."
"That is a good thing to be right now," he said. "If people are for that (the economic stimulus packages), they are failing themselves."
Shelby called the package too big with too much unchecked spending. He said some of it is worthwhile, but his estimate is that part is less than 20 percent -- far too little for him to consider supporting the package.
He decried the Republican senators who did agree to support the package, basically making it filibuster-proof and ensuring its passage.
Despite his opposition, he admitted Monday that it appears the stimulus bill is going to pass.
Asked by one chamber member about the impact the stimulus package will have on Alabama's budget, Shelby said the bill should be used to rescue the economy, not state budgets.
"Alabama should not depend on the stimulus to bail out the state," he said.
He predicted the package's impact on the economy would be modest compared to the price tag.
"It will help marginally at best, but the debt goes on," he said.
Shelby, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate's Banking Committee, said restoring confidence to the banking system is the key to stopping the economy's slide.
"There was no accountability for the $700 billion," he said of last year's bank bailout package. "The bailout money is going to banks that created the problem in the first place."
He said the banks need to accept that many of their woes are of their own making.
"You can't make loans to people with nothing down and no credit," he said.
But banks are far from the only area of the economy that has major problems, Shelby said.
"We have more than an oversupply of houses in most places," he said. "If you have an oversupply and keep adding to it, prices are going to go down."
He said some things were broken, but that no amount of money could fix it.
Once again he pointed out one of them, or more particularly three of them --the Big Three auto companies.
"Their business model doesn't work," he said. "We are wasting billions of dollars."