OKLAHOMA CITY -- Seven months since being passed into law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is still grabbing headlines. The current debate over the Stimulus centers primarily on how many jobs the ARRA has saved or created, and thus whether the legislation is doing what President Obama promised it would do. The debate is highly partisan and very much resembles the debate leading up to its original passage.
President Bush had pushed through the $700 billion bank bailout measure in December with bipartisan support, but when the new President set about making good on his campaign promise to enact an economic stimulus package a month later, the bipartisanship all but vanished.
President Obama called passage of a major stimulus bill "essential" to the goal of keeping the American dream alive in our time.
Not everyone agreed. Six of the seven members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation voted against the stimulus.
Fifth District Representative Mary Fallin said she agreed that some sort of stimulus was necessary, but she wanted it with more tax cuts, more road and bridge-building, and less government.
"It had a huge expansion in most of our social programming in our federal budget, and very little of it went to actual infrastructure spending, which is what the bill was originally sold to do," Fallin said.
But Democrats, including Oklahoma's lone Democrat in Congress, Dan Boren, (D) 2nd District, felt they didn't have the luxury of viewing the bill in black and white. As the majority party and the nation on the brink of economic disaster, Boren said, they felt a responsibility to pass something, even if it contained some flaws.
"Is the stimulus bill perfect? No. Are there some things we can do to change it or should have done? Yes. But, given the choice between just doing nothing and letting everything collapse or taking the responsible position and voting for something, I decided to do that," Boren said.
Boren does agree with Fallin, in that he would like to have seen more infrastructure spending in the bill. While $144 billion of the $787 billion package, about 18 percent, is going toward some type of construction, less than four percent, $28 billion, is actually slated for road and bridge construction.
Senator Tom Coburn, perhaps Oklahoma's most vocal critic of the stimulus, said the measure should have been about half the size of what was passed, and should have been all infrastructure spending. Instead, he said, the bill was loaded up with pet projects and money to help states avoid making difficult budget decisions. He said that sets a terrible precedent.
"The next time a state has trouble, in the next economic downturn, the federal government's going to be the answer, and it's not the answer," Coburn said.
One point on which all members of the state's Congressional delegation agreed is that a second stimulus is definitely not the answer. But they agree for different reasons. Boren said the stimulus is working well enough and there's no need for a second bill. Fallin and her Republican colleagues, on the other hand, said the first one is not working, so why even think about repeating the process.