Himes bucks party's leadership and opposes job bill
The Jobs for Main Street Act dedicates $48.3 billion for shovel-ready infrastructure projects in the areas of highway construction, mass transit projects, Amtrak improvements, airport grants and rehabilitation of wastewater treatment facilities.
It also sets aside $26.7 billion for a combination of job-stabilization programs, such as an education jobs fund, and earmarks $41 billion to expand unemployment benefits.
But with two-thirds of the $787 billion in stimulus funding approved by Congress earlier this year still unspent, Himes said it would be fiscally irresponsible to commit to another round of spending to try to stimulate the economy.
"I think the key to creating a healthy economy will be finding that moment when we have to stop focusing on fiscal stimulus and start focusing on a sustainable fiscal path," Himes said. "There's dangers to making that switch over too early or too late, but I'm very sure that with $540 billion left to be spent of the stimulus, piling another $150 billion on top of it is unwise."
A major stumbling block for Himes was Democrats' claim that $75 billion of the $154 billion would be paid for with unused funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the massive Wall Street bailout legislation.
Himes' position is that unspent TARP funds should not be used for anything other than debt reduction unless the money is distributed through the full appropriations process. Himes didn't exactly endear himself to the political left by bucking his party's leadership, however.
On the political blog MyLeftNutmeg.com, the freshman congressman caught flak for his vote against the jobs bill, which passed 217 to 212 on Thursday.
"Congressman Himes' Wrong Turn on the Jobs Bill," read one entry on the Web site.
Sean Goldrick, a Democratic activist from Himes' hometown of Greenwich, writing under the pseudonym Thomas Hooker, invoked the name of Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist, who has argued that the initial stimulus bill wasn't enough to create sustainable jobs.
Himes said he hadn't seen the blog posting.
"I respect Krugman's point of view, but, at the end of the day, the government can't create all the jobs that we need to create," Himes said. "It can just prime the pump and create the conditions for the private sector to do so."
But another poster on My Left Nutmeg suggested that Himes ought to reassess his priorities, "Only teabaggers give a crap about deficits."
Himes said he certainly wasn't trying to placate Tea Party members, the national protest movement against the government's tax and spending policies.
"The teabaggers are a very small minority of my constituency," Himes said. "While I think of everybody I represent, I don't cast votes according to what any particular small minority agitates for."
He is, however, a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a bloc of 68 House members who describe themselves as moderate and pro-growth.
Himes said he informed his party's leadership ahead of Thursday's vote that he would be opposing the jobs bill, which is expected to be taken up by the Senate in the new year.
"I know they pressured a variety of members," Himes said.
Despite siding with budget hawks on the jobs bill, Himes said he does not fear retribution from his party's leadership.
"The only time I've seen members get punished is when they don't do what they say they're going to do," Himes said. "I think the leadership on both sides respects that we have to represent our constituents, but what they won't tolerate is reneging on a commitment."