- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

Though bruised and battered in the public, more than a year into its existence the stimulus bill remains essentially intact - but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week are launching bids to rewrite major parts of the $862 billion law.

A group of Democratic lawmakers is demanding that the Obama administration temporarily halt wind-energy-project stimulus grants, arguing much of the money is going to create jobs overseas, and are vowing to rewrite the law’s “Buy American” rules to make them apply to all those getting money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Meanwhile, with hundreds of billions of stimulus dollars still unspent, that pot of money is proving to be a popular resource for Senate Republicans who say the funds should be used to pay for other immediate priorities, such as $250 payments to seniors or hiring incentives for small businesses.

“It’s been a very inefficient use of funds to create jobs,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who offered an amendment Wednesday to shift stimulus funds to pay for small business tax breaks and investment incentives.

His amendment was defeated, 61-38, with three Republicans joining two independents and all but one Democrat in opposing him. Mr. Thune said Democrats have to defend the stimulus bill because they’re still “under the misguided illusion it’s working.”

That is, indeed, exactly what Democrats argued.

“I understand all too well that some on the other side of the aisle have argued that the stimulus bill was a mistake. But the facts are proving just the opposite,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat.

He also objected to the way Mr. Thune’s amendment would slice the stimulus funds and leave the decisions up to President Obama’s budget office. He said turning the decision over to the administration could lead to cuts in highway funding, clean-energy incentives or other programs members of Congress say they value.

The stimulus act was the administration’s first major accomplishment last year, and passed with almost no Republican support - no House Republicans and just three Senate Republicans voted for the measure, and one of them ended up switching parties because of that vote.

It has since been battered by charges of waste and bad spending, but Congress has rejected every effort to rewrite the law, marking a major victory for President Obama.

“We always welcome ideas for improving Recovery Act implementation and have moved on some through administrative action, but it seems Congress has decided that overall we should continue doing what’s already working,” said Liz Oxhorn, a White House spokeswoman for the Recovery Act.

She pointed to calculations that suggest the law was supporting between 1 million and 2.1 million jobs as of the end of last year.

Congress has swatted aside previous efforts to change the stimulus act, with few departures.

One exception was when lawmakers voted to redirect $2 billion from one part of the stimulus bill over to another stimulus program, Cash for Clunkers, which ran out of money just days after it started.

Another change, to strike nearly $2.8 million in wildland firefighting money that the Forest Service sent to green-jobs programs in Washington, D.C., passed the Senate unanimously as part of a public lands spending bill last fall.

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