WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford urged members of the Senate to reject President Obama's economic-stimulus bill, as DeMint introduced a rival measure with only tax cuts and no spending.
Sanford, in Washington for a Republican Governors Association meeting, asked Republican senators at a Capitol Hill lunch convened by DeMint to follow the lead of House Republicans who voted against the $819 billion stimulus measure last week.
The bill passed the House by a 244-188 margin without a single Republican vote. It would bring South Carolina $3.2 billion, including a $905 million infusion to eliminate the state budget deficit and $830 million to build and repair roads, bridges, schools, colleges, universities, water-treatment plants and other infrastructure.
Sanford and DeMint, also of South Carolina, said Wednesday they are joining forces in a bid to try to spark the kind of national outcry among conservatives that led to the defeat of a major Senate immigration-reform bill in 2007.
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The two men oppose using federal deficit spending to jolt the economy, saying increased tax cuts will have a more immediate impact on restoring consumer confidence and spending.
"When you actually begin to look at the fine print, it just doesn't work," Sanford said after emerging from his luncheon address in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol. "That's why I came to make my plea before these senators and ask them to continue to stand in the breach as they are."
Sanford has drawn attention since a National Governors Association meeting Dec. 1 when he confronted Obama, then the president-elect, the stimulus measure he was crafting.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has backed some of Obama's key early moves, criticized the House-passed stimulus bill now before the Senate.
"People are running scared in the Senate because this bill is stinking up the place," Graham told a crowded news conference. "I'm asking the president not to start over from scratch, but to get people in a room" to work out a compromise.
DeMint, however, derided the House-passed measure as "one of the worst bills in the history of Congress" and said Obama might have to start from scratch.
"We'll try to make the bill better, but this bill is bad." DeMint said. "You can't fix it by tweaking around the edges."
Graham and DeMint joined 16 other Republican senators and representatives at a feisty news conference called by DeMint to denounce the House measure.
The Republicans said it spends too much money on short-term jobs and government employment that won't revive the economy.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina disagreed with DeMint but said Democratic lawmakers are open to compromise.
"Economists across the spectrum agree that investments in infrastructure and innovation have more of a stimulative effect than tax cuts," Clyburn said. "I think the House bill struck the right balance, but I look forward to working out the differences between the bills in conference (committee). We will need to find compromise with our colleagues in the Senate in order to produce the bold, swift action that President Obama requested of the Congress."
Obama turned up the heat on Republicans who oppose his stimulus plan.
"A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery and a more uncertain future," Obama said.
"Millions more jobs will be lost. More businesses will be shuttered. More dreams will be deferred."
Obama launched a direct attack on DeMint and other Republicans who want to stimulate the economy solely through tax cuts.
"Now, in the past few days, I've heard criticisms of this plan that echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis - the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems," Obama said.
In a pointed reminder that he won the election, Obama added: "I reject that theory, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."
DeMint and the White House released competing lists of benefits their stimulus bills would bring each state.
The Obama-House bill would create or save 53,700 Palmetto State jobs in the next two years, according to the White House.
It would give 58,000 South Carolina families a $2,500 tax credit for college costs and provide a separate tax cut of up to $1,000 for 26,313 workers, the White House said.
DeMint said his measure, as analyzed by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, would create 6,956 jobs in South Carolina by the end of this year, and 28,262 jobs through 2013.
DeMint said his measure would save Americans $1.2 trillion in taxes over the next decade, including more than $80 billion for South Carolinian families and businesses.
Under the DeMint plan, the income of the average South Carolina family of four would increase by $1,153 in 2009 and by $3,864.
Graham, though, didn't cosponsor DeMint's rival bill. He chose instead to join Sens. John McCain, Richard Burr, Mel Martinez and John Thune in backing a separate measure that mixes increased tax cuts with reduced spending
Sanford cited a recent Congressional Budget Office study showing that a good chunk of the spending in the Obama stimulus bill won't start for two years.
"You can't have your cake and eat it too," Sanford said. "You can't argue, 'This is a crisis and we've got to do something now,' but then say, 'Oh, by the way, the spending won't actually come for twenty-four months."