Travis Childers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Childers

‘Good outweighed bad’ in stimulus bill, says Childers

By Billy Davis

It was the biggest single spending bill in U.S. history, nearly $1 trillion dollars, touted by Democrats as a jumpstart for America’s struggling economy.

And Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, still a freshman Congressman after eight months, was set to cast a difficult vote.

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A bill that was crafted to pour money into infrastructure across the country, with the intention of putting billions of dollars into the economy, had been loaded with billions of dollars in pet projects.

Despite that, Mississippi was still set to receive millions of dollars, and at least some of that money would find its way to the 1st District.

“I’ve had varying degrees of enthusiasm for every vote I cast, and I’ve got to tell you that this vote was not a 10,” Childers told The Panolian last week.

Last week, Childers crisscrossed Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District to describe benefits of the plan. His stops included Itawamba Community College in Fulton, a small business forum in Tupelo, and a community meeting in Hernando.

On Friday, the Congressman spoke to The Panolian by phone to describe his vote and benefits for Panola County. 

Panolian: You’ve said about the stimulus plan, “I cast one of the most difficult votes I’ve had to make since taking office.” Why was your “yea” vote such a difficult decision?

Childers: Because of the huge cost of the bill. As you know, I am greatly concerned about the debt in this country and I’m concerned that in the last eight years it has doubled. If we don’t get control of this debt, if it doubles again in the next 10 years, we will not be able to withstand it. That was the hard part.

I felt like, though, this country is not going to improve without intervention.

It was somewhat of a controversial bill in that, when it started, it was more about infrastructure. I was very, very, very supportive of that. Then through the week it got… “Washington-ized.” Many people wanted many other things, and so the bill changed as it went along.

But the bottom line is that I voted for it because I felt the good outweighed the bad. It was not something I was 100 percent proud of.

Panolian: What ultimately convinced you that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act deserved your vote? Was there a deciding factor?

Childers: Here’s what pushed me over: I represent 24 counties, and 10 of them have double-digit unemployment. Thank goodness your county [Panola] is not one of them; the December unemployment rate for your county was 8.9 percent. But 10 of them, almost half, have double-digit unemployment. That concerns me.

That means that there are a lot of people in north Mississippi looking for a job. They want to work but there’s no opportunity there. We can’t get away from the main issue of the bill. That bill was about jobs and recovery.

Panolian: Was there a “tipping point” at which you would have voted “nay?”

Childers: Yes, yes there is. I think if they had reduced infrastructure anymore and education spending anymore, I would have gone the other way. I’ve had varying degrees of enthusiasm for every vote I cast, and I’ve got to tell you that this vote was not a 10.

Panolian: Your most recent press release states that stimulus bill will “create and save” an estimated 30,000 jobs in Mississippi and 9,000 jobs in the 1st District. Where do those figures come from?

Childers: Those numbers came from economists and, really, economic experts who were brought in, and who I listened to and believe were telling us right. These are the people who said, “Doing nothing is going to be far worse than the cost of this bill.” These are nationally known economists, not just people who walked in off the street and said, “My opinion is this.” They’re experts.

Panolian: Much of the stimulus bill is about, as you mentioned, infrastructure improvements –  “shovel ready” projects. But many of those who are unemployed in the 1st District – they can’t drive a nail to put up sheetrock. They can’t drive a dump truck or run a bulldozer. They’re not trained to do construction-type projects.

If much of the bill is about infrastructure, how will it help “create or save” thousands of jobs in Mississippi and the 1st District?

Childers: By the same token many of those people can – can – do those jobs. And some of these projects – all of these projects – require engineers, for instance. Many of them require architects, plumbers, electrical contractors, brick masons. This is broad reaching. I do like the phrase “shovel ready,” but this is not only about those who can use a shovel. It will affect a lot of workers.

Panolian: Did you agree with the President’s dire warnings that the country’s economic problems could be irreversible if the bill failed to pass? That was in his opinion piece that ran in the Washington Post.

Childers: He not only shared that idea – that wasn’t only his belief. It was many of these economists who came to talk to us. That is basically what a great majority of them said. I’m not sure if I 100-percent agree with that, but I do agree that the economy was not going to get better on its own.

Panolian: Is there a Plan B, Congressman, if the stimulus bill fails to accomplish its goals?

Childers: I will tell you that there are those who are already saying potentially that a second round of stimulus (is needed). But I’m not willing to sign on this day to a second round of stimulus until I see progress from this one.

Honestly, I’m thinking in terms that this stimulus will help turn the economy around, and then we all feed off of each other. Business breeds business. Jobs breed jobs.

I think this is going to help. If it doesn’t, I’m still committed. But I’m not willing to automatically sign off on a second round because I do want to see progress from this one.

Panolian: To change the topic slightly, some of your 1st District constituents may not know that you sit on the House Financial Services Committee, which is sort of ground zero for Congress’s work to try to mend the economic crisis. What action is being taken to improve the economy?

Childers: The financial bailout, as your remember, was $700-plus billion dollars. Half of it was given to (former Treasury Secretary) Henry Paulson and one-half was held over until President Obama took off. I voted against it. I considered that a bailout. I do not consider the stimulus a bailout.

I want to be real clear about that, and here’s why: when we’re investing in America and Mississippi, and specifically in Panola County, Miss., I just don’t consider that a bailout. If we can rebuild infrastructure in Iraq, surely we can rebuild infrastructure in America.

Panolian: As you said, you voted against the bank bailout plan, known as TARP. What is the status of TARP II?

Childers: TARP II – I voted against it. I’m just going to be a little frank with you. When I voted against it, I’m not sure we had to vote again to disburse that money… But if in fact we did, I didn’t see enough progress the first time and I thought, if they spend the second half as poorly as they spent the first half, they’re going to have a hard time ever getting me to vote for that. 

Panolian: So you would agree that the first half of the bank bailout money failed to accomplish what it was intended to do?

Childers: Absolutely not, and I was thoroughly disgusted and disappointed with the results of how the first half was spent.