Feb 17 2009

Shelby explains opposition to stimulusSenator said bill focuses on spending rather than fixing nation’s banks

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby talked politics with residents of Greene County on Saturday morning over a breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Held at Ruby’s Restaurant in Eutaw, the town hall meeting was one of three stops in West Alabama on Saturday as Shelby, the Tuscaloosa Republican, makes his annual visit to each of Alabama’s 67 counties.

For about an hour, Shelby took questions from the audience regarding the agenda for the upcoming 111th session of Congress.

The hot topic was the economic stimulus bill, which passed late Friday night. Shelby was one of the 38 senators who voted against the bill.

He told the audience that the main fault of the bill is that it focuses on government spending instead of fixing the nation’s banking system.

“I believe that the No. 1 challenge is trying to straighten out our banking system,” said Shelby, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “Without the banking system functioning, our economy will continue to tank.”

Shelby said he gave his opinion of the stimulus bill to President Barack Obama when the president visited the Republican Senate offices.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, I think you’ve got your priorities mixed up,’ but they were determined to pass the stimulus bill,” he said.

As lawmakers debated the merits of the stimulus bill Friday, Shelby took the Senate floor and said that the bill would have no immediate impact on the economy and would leave permanent damage.

“Mr. President, it took until 1982 for our publicly held debt to cross the $1 trillion mark,” Shelby said. “In the 25 short years since then, we’ve amassed a debt in excess of 10 times that amount. Now, we are about to vote on a measure that will — in a single year — add to the national debt what it took nearly 200 years to accumulate.”

Shelby said Saturday that the bad things about the bill outweigh the good things in it.

“[The bill] has got a lot of good things in it, but it’s nearly a trillion dollars we’re going to be borrowing and adding to our children’s debt,” he said.

An audience member asked Shelby where the money from the Bush administration’s Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 had gone.

“I don’t know where it is,” Shelby said. “But, [at the time] I said it’s not good, it’s not going to work and they spent $350 billion of your money to the banks who caused most of the problems. And did they give [consumers] loans with it? Heck no, they saved other banks.”

When asked what voters could be happy about concerning the passing of the stimulus bill, Shelby said the bill itself isn’t cause for happiness.

“The stimulus package is not going to change this economy,” he said. “It will help marginally. It’s got some good things in it, but at a huge cost. So I can’t tell you to leave here and believe the stimulus package is going to make everybody happy and make you prosperous. But when you leave here, believe in America. We’ll come back.”

In the meantime, Shelby said he will be fighting to make sure Alabama comes out with just as much help from the stimulus package as bigger states like California.

“If you don’t fight for it, the big dog will always win,” he said.