Conrad: Passing Stimulus Bill Is Essential

"So much of this is in the eye of the beholder," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said in reaction to his colleague Senator John McCain's bashing of the economic stimulus bill on Face The Nation Sunday. "But let me be very clear, it is absolutely essential for this country that we have a significant economic recovery package.

"This economy is falling away from us," said Conrad, citing increased job losses and a contracting economy that, he warned, may contract further in the coming quarter. "That means millions of additional Americans will lose their jobs if we fail to act effectively."

If the current package clears a floor vote on the Senate side, Conrad may be one of the members involved in conference reconciling the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill. Host Bob Schieffer asked if the senator thinks any support could be won in the House from Republicans, who voted lock-step against it. "I think it is possible," Conrad said, adding that he thinks the Republicans' insistence on not supporting the package is politically motivated.

"I think most of them have made a political calculation that it's better to be in opposition," he told Schieffer. "You can see that on a political basis because, look, this economy is in desperately serious shape. It is going to get worse before it gets better. So they will be able to argue 'This package was ineffective.'"

But, Conrad said, attention must be paid to reality: "If there is a failure to give a significant boost to the economy, this crisis will only deepen and become far more serious. … Unless that is dealt with, and dealt with promptly and dealt with in a way that is fully effective, we could enter a far more serious downturn. Deflationary spiral could begin, like we saw in the Great Depression. That would be a disaster."

Conrad said he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, D-S.C., proposed an amendment which would take out of the bill some provisions viewed as unrelated to immediate job creation in exchange for help for the housing crisis.

Conrad also said he was one of the senators "who preformed this surgery," reducing the package by $107 billion. Asked if he would be willing to put some of these provisions back into the bill, the senator said, "I am very much hopeful that in this conference committee … that we can improve" the bill.

"You know, 80% of this package will be effective in the first two years. That means 20% will not. I think we've got to focus," he said. "Most of the economists have said what is absolutely critical is that this be temporary in nature so that we get money into the economic bloodstream, but at the same time we don't add to the long-term deficit and debt — that is, you don't take steps that have permanent effect. Unfortunately, there are items still here that have long-range effect well beyond the time that we expect this downturn to continue. So I think we could improve this package."

Earlier on the program, Senator McCain discussed the stimulus package negotiations, which he described as the antithesis of bipartisanship, and mocked the notion that "change" had come to Washington with the recent election.

"I think from the beginning when the Speaker of the House [Pelosi] said, 'We won, so we're writing the bill,' that set the stage," McCain said. Targeting Democrats in Congress and the White House, McCain said, "In the interest of full disclosure, that's the way the Bush administration [operated] when we Republicans were in charge. That's the way we did business, but I thought we were going to have change, that change meant we work together.

McCain also said that he would not vote for the stimulus bill as it now stands, referring to the spending package as "generational theft." He said that the Senate version of the package (which, even after some pruning by Republicans and Democrats, currently stands at $827 billion) would lead to a $1.2 trillion budget deficit, which he said marks only the beginning of a greater downward spiral. "We are going to amass the largest debt in the history of this country and we are going to ask our kids and grandkids to pay for it," he said.

"I know America needs a stimulus," McCain admitted, "but this is not it."

  • To download or view the full transcript of the program click here.