Senate Democrats said Tuesday that President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program needs to be fixed to ensure money is spent more quickly and on projects that will provide a faster boost to the economy.
They expressed their concern even as Mr. Obama warned that unemployment will continue to rise, and as a Washington Times analysis shows the states that have lost the most jobs this year are receiving less money per capita from the stimulus bill than states that are doing relatively well.
“I learned a long time ago on the farm: You don’t fertilize a tree from the top down,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services. “Too much of this is going to the top, and you have to put it in down at the bottom. The more we can put into the bottom and let it percolate up, that’s the best way.”
The Democrats criticizing the stimulus program say they do not support a second stimulus bill, but argue that the first package passed in February should be implemented more efficiently.
A Washington Times analysis found that the four states receiving the most stimulus money per capita - Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana - have all seen unemployment increases of less than seven-tenths of a percent since the beginning of this year.
Meanwhile, West Virginia, where the unemployment rate has jumped 3.3 percentage points since January, ranks 22nd in per capita stimulus money, while Oregon and Michigan, which have seen 2.5 percentage point unemployment increases this year, rank 32nd and 36th.
Mr. Harkin said he continues to support Mr. Obama’s plan but has “some reservations about exactly how it was shaped,” and said Congress might need to redirect some of the stimulus money to improve its effect on the economy.
Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said the money needs to be spent faster and more efficiently.
“I don’t know if you have to go back and change the funding, but there are some areas where they need to get the bureaucracy to move more quickly on things such as regulations and rules to get the money out faster,” he said.
Mr. Nelson cited the stimulus money targeted for broadband services to provide greater access to high-speed Internet connections.
“I’m told from local folks that they want to get that money but the rules are holding it back,” he said. “It’s also quite Byzantine, even when the rules are put out.”
While being pitched as a jobs-creation and jobs-preservation program, the stimulus money is not being spent with an eye toward helping states that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn this year.
A spokesman said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, had no comment on the calls for revisiting the stimulus package, but other Democrats said that, rather than reopening the bill, the administration should try to make whatever adjustments it can.
“If we can do things that are consistent with getting our economy back on track, targeting the money better, we should,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat. “There is a lot discretion, though, in the use of the stimulus money. Oversight is probably our most effective way of doing it.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said that by his calculations stimulus spending is ahead of target and should be given a chance to work. Mr. Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law in mid-February.