- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Vowing not to be merely the party of “no,” Republicans are offering up their ideas on the economic stimulus package - even if they are likely to go nowhere.

Despite President-elect Barack Obama’s invitation earlier this month for bipartisan ideas, House Democrats already have developed a $825 billion package without any input from the minority party, and are forging ahead with no indications that they will consider Republican proposals.

But those realities, and the fact that Mr. Obama has enough support to push the bill through without a single vote from across the aisle, have not stopped House Republicans from crafting their own alternatives.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor last week chaired an economic hearing with testimony from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who called for slashing corporate tax rates and cutting taxes for those earning less than $200,000 a year, and former eBay Inc. Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, who endorsed tax relief and incentives for small businesses.

The conservative House Republican Study Committee also came out with its own plan it said would spur immediate economic growth without new spending.

“I take [Mr. Obama] at his word that he is serious in wanting to work together,” Mr. Cantor said last week.

Mr. Cantor, along with Minority Leader John A. Boehner and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, summarized their ideas in a letter to Mr. Obama on Thursday night. “We look forward to sharing a detailed set of responsible priorities with you which will help put the economy back on a growth path,” they wrote.

Mr. Cantor said they will likely seek a meeting with Mr. Obama following his inauguration.

The Obama transition team did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Democrats’ $825 billion stimulus package, dubbed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill, includes $550 billion in spending on infrastructure, education, energy and other projects in addition to about $275 billion in tax cuts. Republicans were quick to disapprove.

“It calls for more than half a trillion dollars in questionable new government spending on programs and projects, while providing less tax relief for middle-class families and small businesses than President-elect Obama has proposed,” Mr. Boehner said.

The Republican Study Committee’s bill, the Economic Recovery and Middle-Class Tax Relief Act of 2009, eschews extensive deficit spending. The conservative caucus, which has about 100 members, calls for an across-the-board income tax cut of 5 percent, boosting the child tax credit from $1,000 to $5,000 and cutting the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. In addition, the group wants to make the lower 15 percent capital gains tax - set to expire at the end of next year - permanent.

“After a year of bailouts, rebates and taxpayer-funded backstops, it should be clear to all that the approach of throwing huge sums of money at the problem has utterly failed,” RSC Chairman Tom Price of Georgia said.

Mr. Price described himself as “the eternal optimist” when asked whether Democrats would consider the plan, but others were skeptical.

“This bill will not be able to be debated in the open and in front of people and that is the real shame,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican. “So with all the merits of it, probably the majority of the majority party will never hear about this bill.”

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, did not comment on Republican proposals but said the stimulus plan is moving forward quickly.

“The speaker has laid out the way forward on this critical issue and the discussions are ongoing with all parties involved and we hope to be marking up this legislation in committees next week,” he said.

In the Senate, Republicans appeared skeptical of Mr. Obama’s promises of inclusion.

“That’s the biggest problem we all have - lack of transparency,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the fourth-ranking Senate Republican. “It’s basically been negotiated [with] Democrats behind closed doors.”

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