Working across party lines to help recover from recession

Posted Feb. 13, 2009, at 7:42 p.m.

Our nation is facing its gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Job losses in Maine, Nebraska and throughout our nation are mounting, and the pace has accelerated. Since this recession began in December 2007, more than 3.5 million Americans have lost their jobs — alarmingly, nearly half of those job losses came in just the last three months. These numbers represent hardworking people, families facing an uncertain future and communities under stress.

Unfortunately, the debate in Washington on how best to turn this recession into recovery has gravitated to polarized extremes. Some proposed nontargeted government spending with the hope that would work, while others sought only tax cuts. But, the economic stimulus agreement we have forged is targeted and effective and will help turn our troubled economy around, create jobs and provide tax relief to struggling families.

Facing a reality that any economic recovery plan would require at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster attempt, we led a concentrated effort to build a bipartisan alternative that included 16 of our Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle. Our amendment to the Economic Recovery Act resulted from our commitment to work together to make a real difference.

Our bipartisan group held two main principles: Substantial spending of the taxpayers’ money to stimulate the economy must not become license for waste. At the same time, a failure to act was not an option for it would ignore the hardships being faced by people throughout America.

The legislation we developed that passed the House and Senate on Friday vastly improved the House-passed bill. It cut $110 billion in unnecessary spending and directed taxpayer dollars toward programs that would provide an immediate boost to our economy and that would create and save jobs. It also provided substantial tax relief for 95 percent of working Americans.

Our amendment contains robust spending on transportation and environmental infrastructure to create jobs, including investments in renewable energy and a Smart Grid, as well as Medicaid relief for states, assistance to schools, especially for special education and support for police and fire departments. For individuals, it includes tax relief for working families, tax credits to encourage the purchase of homes and vehicles, long-needed changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax, and increases in Pell Grants to aid students struggling to meet the rising cost of college. Small businesses, the job-generators in our country, would also receive tax incentives.

In final negotiations with House, Senate and White House officials, our bipartisan partnership helped move the economic recovery plan toward final passage. The plan isn’t perfect, but it represents the best consensus approach to how our government should respond to a severe financial crisis.

Congress could not wait another three or six months to see if economic conditions worsened. By then, today’s problems could burgeon and take years or decades from which to recover. Of course, we share the concerns of many about the cost of this legislation. That is why it is critical that there are safeguards in place to protect this money against fraud, waste and abuse.

This debate should never have been about Republicans or about Democrats. It should not have been about President Obama winning or losing. For us, it has always been about working across party lines for the good of the nation in this difficult time, and helping to empower the energy and ingenuity of the American people to help build a brighter future.

Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska, are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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