Democratic leaders at odds over using stimulus money to pay for emergency spending

Jon Ward Contributor
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Top Democratic congressional leaders are at odds over whether to use unspent stimulus funds for emergency spending currently under debate in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday he opposes tapping into the stimulus pot.

“That is not anything he can support at this time,” Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told The Daily Caller.

The comment comes one day after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said unequivocally that he supports making a move the party in power has resisted for months.

“I have asked the White House to look at the package that we — the Recovery and Reinvestment Act that we passed, approximately $800-plus billion,” said Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, in a little-noticed remark on ABC’s “This Week.”

“There are clearly funds in there that have not been expended to see whether or not there are some available for this more immediate priority than some that may not be quite as immediate,” he said.

Hoyer’s view is a major concession for Democrats, who have fought to keep the $862 billion stimulus untouched through a series of disputes over major spending bills. The stimulus was passed in February 2009 and originally estimated to cost $787 billion, but the Congressional Budget Office said in January that the total would actually be higher.

About half the money has been spent. About $421 billion in stimulus money remains unspent, according to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The first indication that Democrats would open the door to using stimulus money on any portion of the spending bill currently before the Senate came last week, when House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, was reported to be in favor of spending stimulus funds on $23 billion in education funding.

Hoyer’s comments did not appear to restrict the use of stimulus only to the education spending, which Democrats say will save 300,000 jobs at public schools.

President Obama asked congressional leaders on Saturday to expedite the passage of the nearly $50 billion spending bill being debated in the Senate, which includes the money for schools, as well as a $24 billion extension of Medicaid assistance to states from the beginning of 2011 to the middle of next year.

Hoyer, said spokeswoman Katie Grant, wants to “use [stimulus] money to pay for things we need to do now.” She did not comment when asked if that included more than the emergency education spending.

The White House did not have comment on Hoyer’s remarks, and a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

But Hoyer’s comments Sunday clearly were not the product of a concerted effort by Democratic leadership to take a new tack. Rather, it exposes a growing strain on Democrats to pay for new spending as the country’s debt and deficit continues to concern a large swath of the public.

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