- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2009

Last month, not a single Republican voted for the initial House stimulus bill. And despite arduous pleading and cajoling, Senate Democrats only managed to peel off three Republican senators for their modified version of the bill.

At the end of the day, the final stimulus bill won only the slightest sliver of bipartisan support.

But it didn’t have to be this way. When Republican leadership first met with President Obama last month to discuss the need for decisive action on the economy, we emerged optimistic. In that meeting, I handed Mr. Obama the five-point Republican House Stimulus plan, and as it was later reported, he said, “Eric, there is nothing too crazy in here.” We saw no daylight between us and the president in our shared conviction that stimulus efforts maintain a razor-sharp focus on spurring job creation and jolting the economy.

The Republican five-point economic stimulus plan is a simple and direct way to create jobs and help our economy. The plan we gave to Mr. Obama included:

• Reducing the lowest individual tax rates from 15 percent to 10 percent and from 10 percent to 5 percent.

• Allowing small business to reduce its tax liability by 20 percent.

• Ensuring no tax increases to pay for spending.

• Assistance for the unemployed.

• A home-buyers credit of $7,500 for those buyers who can make a minimum down payment of 5 percent.

Using Mr. Obama’s own analytic model, our stimulus plan generates twice the jobs of the final stimulus bill at half the cost.

The five-point plan was a product of a series of House Stimulus Working Group meetings. The group developed the plan at a field hearing with more than 20 members of Congress, former Gov. Mitt Romney, former eBay chief executive officer Meg Whitman and a host of experts and citizens from across the nation. At that hearing, we heard a number of innovative ideas on the best way to create jobs and spur economic growth.

Yet following the meeting with Mr. Obama, our optimism quickly gave way to a profound sense of missed opportunity. If the president was intent on a new way forward, his sentiments were clearly not shared by the old bulls in the House majority to whom he outsourced the task of writing the bill.

Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, admitted Mr. Obama was wrong to lean on House Democratic leaders to write the stimulus bill, telling the Associated Press: “It would have been better sending up his own version of the bill.”

From Day One, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, and company showed little appetite for tax cuts and common-sense economic policy. It’s no wonder a weak bill materialized.

House Republicans anticipated a mix of meaningful tax relief for working families and small businesses as well as spending designed to truly stimulate the economy. What we got was deficit-grinding, profligate spending: a near trillion-dollar-high tidal wave of cash pouring into the Democrats’ favored programs, largely devoid of stimulative impact.

Consider some of the pork that remains: $300 million for the purchase of federal cars, including golf carts; and $88 million for park, fish and wildlife trails. Worse, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the vast majority of the spending in the bill will not even be released in the next year.

Running a deficit in a recession may be necessary so long as it contributes to economic growth. But the economic benefit this stimulus bill will generate over the short term pales before the damage it inflicts upon the country. Massive deficits could very well trigger punishing inflation, marginal tax increases and far higher interest rates - fatal consequences for American businesses and consumers.

Every House Republican I have spoken with agrees we need bold action to meet our challenges. When you include people who can find only part-time work and people who have quit searching altogether, unemployment has soared to roughly 14 percent.

It’s time to reverse this dubious trend and put people back to work in permanent, honest-paying jobs. Our unanimous vote against the House bill was an unequivocal rejection of the failed philosophy that government can create millions of sustainable jobs simply by increasing the size of existing and largely ineffective government programs.

We believe our alternative vision is a better way out of this morass. Our legislation, which comes at a far lower cost, was the only stimulus bill that received a bipartisan vote on the House floor. It’s stronger because it recognizes the time-honored truth that only private industry - driven to innovate, expand and invest - can get people back on the payrolls for good. Countries’ economies stagnate when they rely on government. We would give incentives to the small businesses, self-employed and entrepreneurs who are responsible for America’s productivity. It’s not government that made us the greatest economy on earth, and it’s not government that’s going to rescue us from this severe recession.

With passage of the final stimulus bill, Congress squandered an excellent opportunity to work in bipartisan fashion to responsibly boost the economy. It instead brought forward a manifestly tone-deaf bill, oblivious to the sense of exhaustion felt by taxpayers tired of the government spending unprecedented sums of their money on initiatives only tangentially tied to the stated purpose.

We are obligated to do so much better.

Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, is the House minority whip.

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