Stimulus plan: Is this the one? Al Franken: Yes. Though imperfect, the plan represents the chance to turn crisis into opportunity.

  • Article by: AL FRANKEN
  • Updated: February 10, 2009 - 8:44 AM

In the lead-up to the Nov. 4 election, it became all too clear that we were heading into a deep and dangerous recession. The economic policies of the last eight years -- tax breaks tilted toward the wealthy, fiscal irresponsibility, cronyism, a refusal to invest in important American priorities -- had been thoroughly discredited.

Americans voted for a new direction. They voted to rebuild our country's economy by rebuilding its infrastructure, changing its energy policy and investing in our talented workforce. In electing Barack Obama president, America reaffirmed its conviction that, with the right leadership, any crisis can be transformed into a great opportunity.

We have that leadership and that opportunity. And the vote on the stimulus package represents a significant step toward the change we chose on Nov. 4.

Since the election, we have lost an additional 1.8 million jobs (nearly 600,000 have been lost since the conclusion of the Minnesota recount). And we are now in more danger than ever, with the prospect of an economic depression becoming all too real. This stimulus package represents bold legislative action, which is precisely what economists agree we need.

In this package, the federal government serves its correct purpose as the spender of last resort. That is a difficult pill to swallow for all of us who have seen the consequences of running huge deficits over the past eight years.

But we are indeed at the point of last resort. While targeted tax cuts are and should be an important part of our response to this crisis, we can't hope for a trickle-down answer. And with interest rates already approaching zero, we have run out of monetary solutions.

I've spent a lot of time in recent weeks talking to members of our congressional delegation, and all point to "shovel ready" projects in their own districts -- projects that, when this bill is signed, can create jobs here in Minnesota. For instance, in Roseau, where Polaris workers were recently laid off, a flood mitigation project awaits funding, potentially provided by this package, that could put those Minnesotans back to work. Meanwhile, the "Buy American" provision in the bill would be a boon for the Iron Range. Investments in a new energy grid will help Minnesota become the epicenter of a renewable-energy economy. And expanding rural broadband access will benefit families, businesses and communities around the state.

There are aspects of the final package that I'm not happy with.

To me, it made no sense to take $40 billion in state aid out of the package. Without this aid, states will be forced to lay off police, teachers, firefighters, nurses and other critical professionals who make our communities better places to live (and to spend money, start businesses and create jobs). It is counterproductive for the federal government to create jobs with one hand yet allow states to cut them with the other.

That said, this is a good and necessary bill, and were it not for the current election contest, I would be voting for it today. I would do so with the understanding that, no matter how important these investments might be, many Minnesotans are nervous about the price tag. Given the way the bailout was executed (I opposed it precisely because of the lack of transparency and oversight), that mistrust is well-placed.

That's why I'm looking forward to working with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and my future colleagues in Washington to enact meaningful oversight for this spending -- and real accountability. During the campaign, I spoke about the Truman Committee, founded at the outset of World War II to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. I think we should have such a committee for this spending package to provide the accountability we need.

Today's vote cannot be the end of our response to this economic crisis, but rather a necessary step to avert catastrophe. I look forward to its passage, and I look forward to getting to work in Washington as we seek to fulfill the commitment we made to the American people in 2008: to turn this crisis into an opportunity.

Al Franken's certification as U.S. senator from Minnesota is awaiting the outcome of a court challenge. He is a Democrat.

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