While the proposed economic stimulus package has become the target of partisan inside-the-Beltway bickering, freshman Democrats in the House are finding that the topic is getting a warm reception back home.
A recent editorial in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal commended Rep. Travis Childers, who won a special election last April, for supporting the bill. And the Fort Morgan Times used an editorial to praise Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado for stepping up "right off the bat" on the issue. Both voted with their leadership in favor of the package.
While the focus is, for the moment, on Senate debate over the package, many of the House freshmen are keeping up the selling job at home in anticipation of a changed version coming back to the House. (See related stories, pages 10, 11 and 18.)
"I'm trying to get in front of as many groups as possible to explain the package, because it's subject to political games," said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn. He said some people are confused about the differences between the stimulus and the Troubled Asset Relief Program. And while some of his constituents are worried about the level of debt, others are interested in more transparency. But, in general, he said people responsible for budgets and school districts have been very supportive.
Similar positive feedback has also been reported by aides to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., and Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio, who held events focusing on education funding.
House Democratic leadership aides said more than 20 Democratic freshmen and most second-term party members have either held stimulus events or have scheduled them. While some of the events have focused on schools, others have met with local Chambers of Commerce and others to focus on potential benefits for small businesses.
"People couldn't care less about partisan bickering and just want to know what the package will bring to the community," said Jessica Barba, a spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., whose meetings in the district have focused on education funding. "Local Republican officials are supporters of this bill."
Aides to other Democratic first-termers report similar responses in their districts.
That hasn't stopped the national GOP from trying to score political points against the freshmen, pointing out how much debt the current plan would mean on a per-district basis.
"Even [House Speaker] Pelosi acknowledges that this massive trillion-dollar spending bill is so big and bloated with wasteful spending that it cannot possibly be labeled 'fiscally responsible.' This is nothing more than a desperate attempt to save face after House Democrats suffered a number of PR embarrassments for larding up a trillion-dollar bill disguised as a 'stimulus' package," said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But Doug Thornell, a senior adviser to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, countered that it was "important to take the discussion out of the partisan box that Republicans are desperately trying to place it in and remind people this bill is about creating local jobs, saving local businesses, fixing local schools and helping working families make ends meet ... The local coverage has been less partisan and political and more focused on the local benefits the recovery bill will create."