Even as Congress moves to bail out Wall Street, congressional Democrats called Thursday for billions more in taxpayer dollars to be spent on private shipyards, a new Department of Homeland Security headquarters and hybrid car batteries - all to get the economy going.
As part of their massive new spending plan, Senate Democrats also proposed continuing a ban on U.S. oil shale, a resource Republicans said leaves hundreds of millions of barrels of oil off limits, just a day after the House agreed to lift a ban on oil shale exploration.
Those are all part of a $56.2 billion economic stimulus package Democrats in the Senate have crafted and are considering attaching to a must-pass stopgap measure to keep the government running past Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends. As of Thursday evening, they had not made a final decision.
“We must not forget Main Street as we work to address the crisis on Wall Street,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Democrats believe that we must urgently pass another economic recovery package that will create hundreds of thousands of good-paying American jobs and prevent cuts in critical services for millions of Americans.”
Republicans, though, said by extending the oil shale moratorium, Democrats are leaving some good jobs on the table.
“Senator Reid’s move to reinstate the ban on oil shale energy production is an insult to the American people and yet another example of Democrats acting to make energy more expensive for working families and small businesses,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
The stimulus spending package is on top of a $630 billion stop-gap measure the House passed Wednesday and which is now pending in the Senate. That bill must be passed before Oct. 1 to keep the government running into the next fiscal year.
But the stimulus package goes well beyond the basics to take care of many needs Democrats have been seeking to address, including:
cIncreasing food stamp benefits by 10 percent, paying for 18 million additional meals for a senior citizens program and designating $450 million for the Women, Infants and Children Benefits program.
cSpending $5.1 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program.
cSetting aside $925 million for a new Coast Guard polar ice-cap icebreaker.
cPaying hundreds of millions for a Homeland Security headquarters that will consolidate many of the former agencies now scattered across Washington. Democrats and DHS officials say the move will help the department do its job.
cDesignating $10.8 billion for a whole range of infrastructure, including bridges, mass transit, Amtrak and airports.
The proposal includes $44 million for grants to assist small shipyards, which Democrats said is needed to make the U.S. shipbuilding industry competitive.
The draft amendment would also head off a Bush administration effort to reduce set-asides for women-owned businesses. The bill includes a ban preventing the new Bush rules from taking effect.
But the fight over oil shale could prove devastating to the amendment’s prospects. Earlier this week the House agreed to let lapse both the oil shale ban and a ban on some offshore oil drilling, opening the way for a dramatic expansion of oil exploration.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said there are more than 800 million barrels of oil from shale in states such as Colorado and Utah.
“The fact that Senator Reid would try to sneak a sweeping, previously discarded, anti-energy provision into an unrelated, temporary spending bill is just the latest indication of how out of touch congressional Democrats are with millions of struggling energy consumers,” Mr. Blunt said.
Mr. Reid’s office, though, said oil shale has proved not to be needed.
“Although Senate Democrats support measures to increase this nation’s energy supply, oil shale extraction has not been proven to be economically viable, will produce more greenhouse gases, and will significantly decrease the West’s water supply,” Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau said.