The Conflicted Fifty

Leading congressional conservatives support Wall Street bailouts but balk at helping workers on Main Street, write Daniel J. Weiss and Kalen Pruss.

Corporate Jet (AP)
Corporate Jet (AP)

There has been a cascade of terrible economic news since President Barack Obama’s inauguration. To respond to the growing economic peril, the president and congressional leaders crafted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, H.R. 1, an $819 billion package of spending measures and tax cuts to create jobs. The act passed the House of Representatives on January 28 by a 244-188 vote. Only one day after President Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to offer compromise and seek Republican backing, the recovery plan was opposed by 177 Republicans (one was absent) and 11 Democrats.

Of the 188 representatives who voted against the Recovery Act, 151 were conservatives—legislators who voted with the American Conservative Union two-thirds of the time or more. Although one may disagree with legislators who oppose all large spending measures, at least those that do have a logical consistency. Yet 59 of these conservatives (more than one third) voted for the $750 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (see chart). Of these, no less than 50 also voted against the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act, the $14 billion in bridge loans sought by the three Detroit auto companies.

The upshot: Fifty House conservatives voted to bail out Wall Street but opposed efforts to keep auto workers employed, and they were against Recovery and Investment Act spending increases and tax cuts designed to stave off the coming tidal wave of unemployment.

These conservatives point to a variety of reasons why they supported bailing out Wall Street firms just a few months ago but then decided not to help workers on Main Street through a severe recession Their excuses don’t hold much water.

First of all, conservatives protested that the House majority leadership drafted the bill without consulting them. The record suggests otherwise. The final version had more tax cuts than the initial proposal—$275 billion in all—which was about one-third of the total package. These cuts included some business tax breaks unpopular with progressives. The Los Angeles Times reported that, “Obama initially asked that 40 percent of the bill’s price tag be allotted to tax cuts, a portion large enough that pleased many Republicans and angered some Democrats. But when the bill failed to win over many Republicans, Obama settled for allotting one-third of the package to tax cuts.”

Next, conservatives used a flawed, incomplete analysis from the Congressional Budget Office to claim that the recovery package would create fewer jobs than advertised because a large portion of the funds could not be spent until 2011 or later. This assertion was debunked by Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, whose “analysis indicates that at least 75 percent of the overall package (including its tax component and the other spending provisions that were not analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office) will be spent over the next year and a half.” CBO later issued a more complete assessment that estimates that H.R. 1 will have a net impact on the deficit over 10 years of $816 billion. Of that total, $700 billion, or 85 percent, will be spent by the end of fiscal 2011.

Their next tactic was to complain that several specific spending items were wasteful and would not quickly create jobs. In response to these concerns, President Obama insisted upon some last-minute changes to address them. These included stripping Medicaid coverage of family planning services from the bill even though this program would have eventually saved the federal government $200 million. The president also offered to adjust the alternative minimum tax, a long-time conservative goal.

Despite these accommodations, conservatives maintained that the recovery package was too big and wouldn’t create enough jobs. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) dismissed the bill as partisan legislation driven by “old liberal spending priorities,” claiming that “the Democratic bill won’t stimulate anything but more government and more debt.”

The conservative alternative was a bill focused entirely on tax reductions. They wanted to continue the conservative economic policies pursued by President George W. Bush that focused almost exclusively on tax cuts, despite their dismal record in spurring economic growth. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s and a top economic advisor to Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign, testified before the House last year that government spending would spur more economic growth than tax cuts.

Similarly, an economic analysis by members of the Obama transition team determined that “the jobs effects of temporary broad-based tax cuts would probably be considerably smaller…Large proportions of temporary tax cuts are saved, blunting their stimulatory impact on output and employment.” Meanwhile, President Obama’s economic recovery plan that became H.R. 1 would create 3,675,000 jobs by the end of 2010.

The unanimous rejection of H.R. 1 is reminiscent of conservatives’ rebuff of President Bill Clinton’s economic recovery plan. In August 1993, this plan passed the House of Representatives by a single vote, 218-216, with all 175 Republicans and 41 Democrats voting against it. This plan led to nearly eight years of steady economic growth and the creation of 23 million jobs.

Why did so many conservatives revert to fierce partisanship? After all, this past fall many small-government conservatives set aside their laissez-faire ideology to prevent a financial system meltdown after the U.S. housing crisis metastasized into a global credit crisis. Fifty-nine House conservatives voted for the Emergency Economic Stability Act because it was essential to avoid an imminent financial implosion that would have hurt people far away from Wall Street. The $750 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program created by this law injected huge sums of money into banks that recklessly gambled on subprime mortgages and other risky investments. Some of the beneficiaries of TARP funds included:

After the unprecedented infusion of federal support, these and other companies spent money as if they were flush with profits instead of taxpayer dollars. AIG executives spent nearly half a million dollars on an executive retreat at an exclusive spa. Citigroup ordered a $50 million private jet for its executives’ use, even though it already had two jets. The head of Merrill Lynch spent over $1 million to renovate his office during his company’s financial crisis. And Wall Street bankers in total gave themselves nearly $20 billion in bonuses for 2008 despite decisions that brought their firms to the brink of insolvency and ignited this economic tailspin.

Despite this outrageous spending by its beneficiaries, support for the $750 billion Emergency Economic Recovery Act was essential to prevent a much worse economic crash. Conservatives who supported it deserve recognition for putting the nation’s best interests ahead of their own aversion to government intervention in the market place.

But it is troubling that these same legislators clung to their conservative beliefs rather than support the Recovery Act that would create jobs for those middle- and low-income people who are caught in the undertow of this financial tidal wave. House Minority Leader Boehner, then-Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), current Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), and 56 of their colleagues who supported the Wall Street bailout all held fast to their conservative beliefs rather than create construction, manufacturing, and other jobs. What’s more, 50 of these conservatives also voted against helping the nation’s auto industry survive its sudden, sharp economic downturn.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would help those on Main Street in need of work or trying to hang on to their jobs through increased government investments in health care, housing, infrastructure, and clean energy. The legislation would create millions of new jobs in the midst of the longest recession in nearly 30 years. Yet these pro-Wall Street legislators put their conservative ideology ahead of the interests of Main Street Americans. Hopefully, Senate conservatives will set ideology aside to support this critical recovery program when the Senate begins deliberations this week.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Kalen Pruss is an intern with the energy team at CAPAF.

State Congressional District Party Representative ACU Lifetime Score H.R. 681 H.R. 690 H.R. 1
Alabama 1 R Bonner 92 yes no no
Alabama 3 R Rogers 86 yes no no
Alabama 4 R Aderholt 89 no no no
Alabama 6 R Bachus 93 yes no no
Alaska AL R Young 77 no yes no
Arizona 2 R Franks 98 no no no
Arizona 3 R Shadegg 98 yes no no
Arizona 6 R Flake 95 no no no
Arkansas 3 R Boozman 93 yes no no
California 2 R Herger 96 yes no no
California 3 R Lungren 92 yes no no
California 19 R Radanovich 95 yes no no
California 21 R Nunes 91 no no no
California 22 R McCarthy 100 no no no
California 24 R Gallegly 88 no no no
California 25 R McKeon 90 yes no no
California 26 R Dreier 91 yes no no
California 40 R Royce 98 no no no
California 41 R Lewis 82 yes no no
California 42 R Miller 96 yes no vote no
California 44 R Calvert 89 yes no no
California 45 R Bono Mack 71 yes no no
California 46 R Rohrabacher 95 no no vote no
California 48 R Campbell 93 yes present no
California 49 R Issa 88 no no no
California 50 R Bilbray 77 no no no
California 52 R Hunter 92 no yes no
Colorado 5 R Lamborn 100 no no no
Florida 1 R Miller 95 no no no
Florida 4 R Crenshaw 90 yes no no
Florida 5 R Brown-Waite 86 no no no vote
Florida 6 R Stearns 94 no no no
Florida 7 R Mica 93 no no no
Florida 9 R Bilirakis 86 no no no
Florida 10 R Young 88 no no no
Florida 12 R Putnam 92 yes no no
Florida 13 R Buchanan 84 yes no no
Florida 14 R Mack 88 no no no
Florida 18 R Ros-Lehtinen 76 yes no no
Florida 21 R Diaz-Balart, Lincoln 73 no no no
Florida 25 R Diaz-Balart, Mario 81 no no no
Georgia 1 R Kingston 96 no no no
Georgia 3 R Westmoreland 96 no no no
Georgia 6 R Price 90 no no no
Georgia 7 R Linder 95 no no no
Georgia 9 R Deal 97 no no no
Georgia 10 R Broun 100 no no no
Georgia 11 R Gingrey 95 no no no
Idaho 2 R Simpson 87 yes no no
Illinois 6 R Roskam 96 no no no
Illinois 13 R Biggert 68 yes no no
Illinois 15 R Johnson 66 no no no
Illinois 16 R Manzullo 96 no yes no
Illinois 19 R Shimkus 88 no no no
Indiana 3 R Souder 91 yes yes no
Indiana 4 R Buyer 92 no yes no
Indiana 5 R Burton 97 no no no
Indiana 6 R Pence 99 no no no
Iowa 4 R Latham 86 no no no
Iowa 5 R King 98 no no no
Kansas 1 R Moran 91 no no no
Kansas 4 R Tiahrt 96 no no no
Kentucky 1 R Whitfield 89 no no no
Kentucky 4 R Davis 89 no no no
Kentucky 5 R Rogers 85 yes no no
Louisiana 5 R Alexander 73 yes no no
Louisiana 7 R Boustany 92 yes no no
Maryland 6 R Bartlett 93 no no no
Michigan 2 R Hoekstra 91 yes yes no
Michigan 3 R Ehlers 70 yes yes no
Michigan 4 R Camp 89 yes yes no
Michigan 6 R Upton 74 yes yes no
Michigan 8 R Rogers 91 no yes no
Michigan 10 R Miller 82 no yes no
Michigan 11 R McCotter 87 no yes no
Minnesota 2 R Kline 94 yes no no
Minnesota 6 R Bachmann 100 no no no
Missouri 2 R Akin 97 no no no
Missouri 6 R Graves 91 no no no
Missouri 7 R Blunt 94 yes no no
Missouri 8 R Emerson 84 yes yes no
Montana AL R Rehberg 91 no no no
Nebraska 1 R Fortenberry 88 no no no
Nebraska 2 R Terry 90 yes no no
Nebraska 3 R Smith 96 no no no
Nevada 2 R Heller 96 no no no
New Jersey 2 R LoBiondo 68 no no no
New Jersey 5 R Garrett 100 no no no
New York 3 R King 76 yes yes no
New York 23 R McHugh 74 yes yes no
North Carolina 3 R Jones 90 no no no
North Carolina 5 R Foxx 99 no no no
North Carolina 6 R Coble 89 yes no no
North Carolina 9 R Myrick 95 yes no no
North Carolina 10 R McHenry 97 no no no
Ohio 2 R Schmidt 89 yes no no
Ohio 3 R Turner 84 no no no
Ohio 4 R Jordan 100 no no no
Ohio 5 R Latta 100 no no no
Ohio 8 R Boehner 94 yes no no
Ohio 12 R Tiberi 91 yes no no
Ohio 14 R LaTourette 71 no yes no
Oklahoma 1 R Sullivan 97 yes no no
Oklahoma 3 R Lucas 94 no no no
Oklahoma 4 R Cole 94 yes no no
Oklahoma 5 R Fallin 100 yes no no
Oregon 2 R Walden 82 yes no no
Pennsylvania 9 R Shuster 94 yes no no
Pennsylvania 10 D Carney 80 no yes yes
Pennsylvania 15 R Dent 67 yes no no
Pennsylvania 16 R Pitts 96 no no no
Pennsylvania 18 R Murphy 83 no yes no
Pennsylvania 19 R Platts 77 no no no
South Carolina 1 R Brown 93 yes no no
South Carolina 2 R Wilson 94 no no no
South Carolina 3 R Barrett 98 yes no no
South Carolina 4 R Inglis 84 yes no no
Tennessee 2 R Duncan 87 no no no
Tennessee 3 R Wamp 92 yes no no
Tennessee 7 R Blackburn 98 no no no
Texas 1 R Gohmert 97 no no no
Texas 2 R Poe 91 no no no
Texas 3 R Johnson 98 no no no
Texas 4 R Hall 83 no no no
Texas 5 R Hensarling 98 no no no
Texas 6 R Barton 94 no yes no
Texas 7 R Culberson 96 no no no
Texas 8 R Brady 96 yes no no
Texas 10 R McCaul 92 no no no
Texas 11 R Conaway 93 yes no no
Texas 12 R Granger 86 yes no no
Texas 13 R Thornberry 95 yes no no
Texas 14 R Paul 82 no no no
Texas 19 R Neugebauer 96 no no no
Texas 21 R Smith 92 yes no no
Texas 24 R Marchant 93 no no no
Texas 26 R Burgess 93 no no no
Texas 31 R Carter 94 no no no
Texas 32 R Sessions 98 yes no no
Utah 1 R Bishop 96 no no no
Virginia 1 R Wittman 100 no no no
Virginia 4 R Forbes 95 no no no
Virginia 6 R Goodlatte 95 no no no
Virginia 7 R Cantor 97 yes no no
Virginia 10 R Wolf 80 yes no no
Washington 4 R Hastings 95 no no no
Washington 5 R McMorris Rodgers 94 no no no
West Virginia 2 R Capito 73 no yes no
Wisconsin 1 R Ryan 93 yes yes no
Wisconsin 5 R Sensenbrenner 88 no no no
Wisconsin 6 R Petri 76 no no no

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow