By Mark Woods
It's one thing when Ron Paul rails against the hundreds of billions of dollars in the stimulus package.
For 30 years the Republican congressman from Texas not only has been preaching his idea of strict fiscal responsibility, he also has been voting for it. Even if that means going against a Republican president or having colleagues at debates treat him like a crazy uncle.
So it's one thing when he criticizes a Democratic plan to stimulate the economy with government spending.
But it's harder to accept when Ander Crenshaw rails against the stimulus, saying in a Times-Union editorial that it's "it's too expensive, too vague, produced too few jobs and creates too much long-term debt" - five months after the Republican congressman voted for the expensive, vague and debt-increasing bank bailout. Twice. First when it failed, then when it passed.
"The cost of doing nothing is not acceptable," a Crenshaw press release said in October, citing AIG's woes in the third paragraph.
My first impulse after re-reading that press release was to accuse Crenshaw of a Kerry-esque flip-flop. (I actually voted for throwing money off the roof of the Capitol before I voted against it.)
Or to poke fun at those who bemoan debt after they were part of an era with record-setting deficits. Isn't that like Paris Hilton accusing the new girl of being a shameless attention-seeker?
But to be fair, I gave Crenshaw's office a call and let him explain why the votes (for the Bush-led bank bailout, against the Obama-led stimulus) aren't contradictory and partisan. And to be fair, he was hardly alone.
Both Florida senators voted differently. Republican Mel Martinez voted for the bank bailout and against the stimulus. Democrat Bill Nelson voted against the bank bailout but for stimulus. (See a pattern, anyone?)
Crenshaw, who insisted his votes weren't partisan, started by saying I was comparing apples and oranges. (I wanted to say, "Sure, if apples cost $700 billion and oranges $787 billion." But I resisted.)
He says the bank bailout was necessary because, without it, we could have instantly tumbled into another Depression. The stimulus, he says, is an example of runaway liberal spending. And he says while we need to do something, the urgency isn't the same as with the banking crisis.
At the time of the bank "rescue," as supporters called it, there were plenty of critics who said it was rushed through with woefully inadequate oversight.
When I re-read Crenshaw's press release, I saw it painted a different picture. It said he and his Republican colleagues had "successfully fought" to ensure that corporate executives "who started this crisis won't profit ... as a result of government action."
Five months later, with bonuses all the outrage, Crenshaw stands by his vote but adds he is disappointed.
"We saved the banking system but we also wasted a lot of taxpayer money along the way," he said Friday.
And by the second "we" he doesn't mean those who voted for the bank bailout. He means the Democrats who took control of it.
Meanwhile, as is often the case, a Texas congressman has a different perspective.
"It happened because we did something that was outrageous," Paul said Friday on CNN. "These bonuses are outrageous, $165 million is a lot of money. But so is $700 billion of unconstitutional appropriations. That's where the problem came from."
And, he said, there is a lot of blame to go around.