- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009




God loves a cheerful giver, the Bible says, but what are we to make of grumpy receivers?

Several Republican governors, mostly in the South, have roundly attacked President Obama’s economic stimulus plan. That’s predictable politics. The $787 billion stimulus package received a total of only three votes out of 219 Republicans in Congress.

But members of Congress are luckier than governors. Republicans could vote against Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan confident in the knowledge that the Democratic majority would pass it anyway, sending billions of dollars to their states, most of which desperately need it.

That’s the nice thing about being in Congress. Sometimes you can talk political hot air all day long, blowing rhetorical kisses to your ideological base, without worrying whether your words will do any actual damage.

Governors are different. They have to actually manage something. They’re accountable every day for whether highways are fixed, buses run, kids get to school and seniors get into decent nursing homes.

That leaves Republican governors in an interesting politically predicament. As a president and Congress send money, the governors who have attacked it have to decide whether to take it.

Some of the least cheerful receivers like Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina also are known to have national political ambitions.

All three oppose the stimulus on principle as too costly and uncertain in its effectiveness. But they’ll take the money, if not all of it.

Mrs. Palin recently said she would have to examine the details of the plan and trace possible strings attached to determine whether it would be in her state’s best interests. Mr. Jindal was more forthright, saying in national TV interviews that they would reject at least some of the money.

Guess which part? He said he would not accept money to expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to part-time workers because it would increase taxes on employers. He would, however, take advantage of a provision to increase unemployment benefits by $25 a week, financed entirely with federal money. Mr. Sanford and Gov. Haley Barbour similarly rejected expanding unemployment insurance.

In this way the grumpy receivers illustrate one of the big problems that the Grand Old Party faces. Their power has eroded in the past two election cycles to a mostly regional party based in the conservative South. Mr. Jindal and Mr. Sanford are two of the rising stars to which the party looks for leadership as it tries to rebuild. But in the face of Mr. Obama’s stimulus package, they respond like regional leaders.

While many other states, mostly outside the South, already have expanded their jobless benefits, the grumpy receivers show a remarkable tone-deafness to the sense of national emergency that grips most of the rest of the country.

It is revealing to contrast their attitudes with those of big-state Republican governors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida. “I’m more than happy to take his money or any other governor in this country [who] doesn’t want to take this money,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said, responding to Mr. Sanford on ABC’s “This Week.” “I take it, because we in California … need it.” It probably is not insignificant that California and Florida, unlike the states from which the grumpy receivers hail, were both won by Barack Obama.

The controversy illustrates the stark difference between governors and members of Congress when it comes to having to solve real problems rather than just talk about them. New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner proposes legislation to make it easier for states that want the money to get a share of the funds others pass up.

But if Democrats have anything to fear from episodes like this, it is overconfidence. The grumpy governors might not show much compassion for the plight of the jobless, but their criticisms reflect widely held misgivings about whether at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars we Americans can buy our way out of a global recession.

If Mr. Obama’s efforts work, the Republicans who opposed it will have egg on their political faces. If not, they could sound like geniuses. For now, their rising stars appear to think it is blessed to be grumpy as they receive.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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