McConnell says spending has stimulated GOP's campaigns, not economy

06/28/2010 09:01 AM

WASHINGTON — The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 did little to secure or create jobs at private companies and may have done more to stimulate Republicans’ election chances than the economy, said U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate leader from Kentucky.

“It’s been great for the public sector. But if the goal was to stimulate the private sector, there’s scant evidence of that,” McConnell told cn|2 Politics in an interview Friday. “I don’t think going on a spending binge and spending it on public sector employees made any sense at all.”

Sixteen months after the Democratic-controlled Congress passed the $787 billion legislation, it has emerged as a key debate point heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Vice President Joe Biden will be in Louisville on Monday to tout the bill’s role in helping the creation of 800 jobs through 2013 at the GE Appliances & Lighting facility there. Democrats have pointed to the economic theory of John Maynard Keynes, who argued for increasing government spending to create jobs when the private sector is weak.

But McConnell, who like every other Republican lawmaker voter against the Recovery Act, said he disagrees with that theory and also opposed the piece of the legislation that sent money directly to state governments, such as Kentucky’s, to keep them from having to slash their state programs any further. For Kentucky, it meant $3 billion that has been pumped into road construction, the ever-expanding Medicaid program that covers health care for the poor and disabled, and the education system to prevent deep cuts to school systems and the public colleges and universities.

“All it did  was prevent other public sector entities form having to make tough choices — or as tough choices as they would have had to make otherwise,” McConnell said. “The only way you get permanent growth is through the private sector, and this administration has been very, very bad for the private sector.”

McConnell cited national poll numbers that indicated that American voters also are skeptical about whether the Recovery Act and strategies offered by President Barack Obama’s administration have helped. Indeed, a Pew Research Center survey this spring showed 23 percent of Americans say Obama’s policies have improved the economy. But a more recent poll Pew conducted this month shows Obama’s approval rating on handling the economy has held firm at 43 percent, which is up one point from January.

Still, McConnell said early indicators show the November elections should be big for Republicans, although he declined to speculate on how many seats the GOP might pick up in the Senate where Republicans hold 41 seats.

But he said in addition to being in a strong position to hold the half-dozen open seats currently represented by Republicans, the GOP will be competitive in at least 11 Democratic-controlled seats: California, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Wisconsin.

McConnell cited a National Public Radio survey that showed in a generic ballot, the Republican would be up 6 points over a Democrat, as compared to being down by 15 points just after the 2008 election that swept Obama into the White House.

“There’s been a dramatic shift in the political environment,” McConnell said. “I think it’s an adverse reaction to a president and a Congress who are running banks, insurance companies, car companies, nationalizing the student loan business and taking over health care.”

Such arguments against “big government” look to be the hallmark of the Republicans’ campaigns this fall, particularly here in McConnell’s backyard of Kentucky where Republican Rand Paul, a prominent voice against government spending and a tea party movement favorite, is running against Democrat Jack Conway to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning.

- Ryan Alessi


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.