For months, Republicans have advocated using the non-existent hundreds of billions of dollars in unspent stimulus funds when they don’t have any other ideas about how to pay for things. But yesterday, contradicting himself and his colleagues, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), dismissed this very idea as merely shifting debt around.
Earlier that day, the House passed a $26 billion state aid bill into law that will help states avoid laying off teacher, firefighters, and other public employees. The cost of the bill was entirely offset by closing tax loopholes for multinational corporations, and by the early termination of extra food stamp programs funded by the stimulus.
Nonetheless, Pence attacked the bill for supposedly not being “paid for,” claiming that using stimulus funds to pay for it was merely “borrowing from one credit card of the federal government to [give to] another”:
PENCE: Probably one of the most offensive things about this $26 billion bailout is that essentially we’re putting off the hard choices that state governments need to be making right now by essentially borrowing from one credit card of the federal government to another. You know, I think one of the big misstatements about this bill today is that it is so called paid for, that is fiscally irresponsible [sic]. Essentially they have taken what we had on the credit card for the stimulus and moved it over here to another credit card. And the American people aren’t fooled by this, Larry. More of the same failed economic policies of the last year and half.
By categorically dismissing the merits of using unspent stimulus money, Pence is rejecting a key Republican talking point about how to pay for government programs without raising taxes. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Friday that he would “absolutely advocate” for using unspent stimulus funds to make a “down payment on a longterm budget plan,” while numerous Republicans, such as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), and Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio have endorsed using unspent stimulus money to pay for extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, even though this would mean cutting middle class tax credits.
Pence himself, just three weeks ago on MSNBC, strongly advocated using unspent stimulus money to pay for extending unemployment benefits:
PENCE: I mean, the American people know the stimulus bill has utterly failed. So, why don‘t we take $34 billion out of the stimulus funds that hasn‘t been spent and use that to pay to help Americans who are the victims of these—the failed policies of this and frankly the previous administration? … Take the unspent stimulus funds, $34 billion, provide that in unemployment benefits to Americans that are hurting.
Meanwhile, Pence is flat our wrong that the state aid bill isn’t paid for. According the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill actually decreases the deficit by $1.37 billion dollars over ten years.