Mo. lawmakers have mixed reactions to Bush's proposals

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's plan to boost the economy with an economic stimulus package generally won praise from Missouri lawmakers who watched the State of the Union address, but his proposal to set curbs on congressional pork barrel projects, or earmarks, drew mixed responses from Democrats and Republicans.

In the final State of the Union of his presidency, Bush urged Congress to quickly approve a bipartisan $150 billion economic aid plan and called on lawmakers to make permanent his first-term tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2010.

Bush also pledged to veto any future spending bill that does not cut earmarks in half from levels spelled out in the current budget.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., agreed that the process of slipping pet projects into spending bills needs to be reformed to avoid frivolous spending like the so-called "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.

Still, Bond argued that earmarks are a valid way to restore money for programs that are cut by the Bush administration, like a law enforcement fund to combat meth abuse.

"I've always supported transparency and accountability for earmarks," Bond said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has refused to request any earmarks until the process is reformed, called Bush's earmark concerns surprising given his past record.

"After embracing, supporting and signing $150 billion in earmarks in his administration, he leaves office saying, 'well the next president ought to put a stop to it.' It's just sad," McCaskill said.

But Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who represents Southeast Missouri, agreed with Bond that a transparent earmark process is a valuable way for members of Congress to decide how federal money is spent in their districts.

"I don't want to offend any Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, but they simply don't know what's best for southern Missouri," Emerson said.

Republican Rep. Sam Graves, of Tarkio, said earmark reform would "bring fiscal sanity back to Washington, D.C., and stop funding bridges to nowhere, hippy museums in New York and rain forests in Iowa."

Bush's defense of his policy in Iraq also drew mixed reviews from the state's congressional delegation. Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, of Lexington, said the improved security situation should make it easier to redeploy more U.S. forces out Iraq.

"We must once again make Afghanistan the central focus in the war against terrorism," said Skelton, a perennial critic of Bush's strategy in Iraq. "Our national security and Afghanistan's future are at stake."

Republican Rep. Todd Akin, of suburban St. Louis, said he admired Bush for trying to "finish strong" in his last year in office, despite low poll numbers.

"This surge was not very widely supported, and yet the results are far, far better than anybody would have possibly predicted," Akin said. "My gut sense is history is going to judge the president more graciously than his pundits."

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, of Kansas City, blamed Bush for waiting too long to implement a stimulus package.

"The economic downturn is already hitting families," Cleaver said. "I can only hope together we can put policies and a stimulus in place to make it less painful or prolonged."

Other Democrats, like Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay, both of St. Louis, said cooperation on Bush's economic package did not mean they would stop challenging the administration elsewhere.

Carnahan pledged to keep "pushing for a change of course in Iraq, addressing the military readiness crisis, restoring fiscal responsibility, reducing the impacts of global climate change and restoring America's leadership in the world."

Bond and Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, of Springfield, said they shared the president's desire to pass a permanent fix to the nation's electronic surveillance laws. Bush has pushed Congress to revise laws to allow intelligence officials to conduct electronic surveillance on international communications without first seeking court approval.

"To that end, I share the president's strong belief in the continued need for good, sound intelligence," Blunt said. "That can only be achieved by equipping our intelligence community with the tools and authority they need to do their job."

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