Leading 3rd District candidates split over bill

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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The leading candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat split along party lines Wednesday in reaction to Congress’ passage of a $26 billion emergency spending bill that will save jobs for teachers, police and other public employees.

Republican David Castillo, an Olympia financial adviser, said he would have opposed the bill, which passed 246-161.

“This $26 billion isn’t going to do anything to increase hiring in the private sector,” Castillo said. “I believe it’s just a sop to public employee unions. It isn’t a long-term solution.”

Republican state Rep. Jaime Herrera of Camas said she, too, would have voted against the measure. “Having served as a state representative who was a very vocal opponent of increasing spending at the state level, this is the wrong approach,” she said. “It’s a piecemeal approach that props up bad spending habits by states.”

Democrat Denny Heck, an Olympia entrepreneur and former state legislator, said he would have supported the measure because Congress “made compensating cuts elsewhere. It was a budget-neutral vote.”

Heck said he favors enactment of a new pay-as-you go law by Congress. The House did pass such a bill last July, requiring Congress to offset the cost of tax cuts or increases in entitlement spending with savings elsewhere in the budget, but the bill died in the Senate. Democrats passed a similar bill in the 1990s to deal with the large deficits they inherited from the Reagan and first Bush administrations. That measure expired in 2002.

Democrats say the $26 billion price tag for the aid-to-states bill will be largely offset by closing a tax loophole used by multinational corporations and by reducing food stamp benefits beginning in 2014.

Castillo called that a “smoke and mirrors” tactic.

“The crisis states are going through is of their own doing,” he said. “We had a chance to save money during the prosperous times. Now they have made a Faustian bargain. The states need to deal with the consequences of their decisions. Every time there is a state or municipal crisis, the default position is that we are going to cut teachers, firefighters and police. I think it is a gimmick, nothing more.”

States, like families, need to live within their means, Herrera said. “Congress, by picking up that credit card, not only adds to the deficit but uses one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses. … The president has said we want this money for emergency spending for the states. What they don’t get is that the emergency is the spending.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summoned House members back to Washington, D.C., from their August recess for the Tuesday vote. U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, joined all but a handful of House Democrats in supporting it.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is fighting for a fourth term in a tight race, issued a statement taking credit for the passage of the emergency spending bill. Murray lobbied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hard to bring the bill up for vote last week after Gov. Chris Gregoire said that Congress’ failure to provide supplemental Medicaid funding would force “draconian cuts” to state services.

Murray said the bill will prevent the layoff of up to 3,000 Washington teachers and allow the state to avoid a special legislative session or wrenching across-the-board budget cuts this year.

“The signing of my bill into law today is great news for families across Washington state who would have otherwise received pink slips, tax increases, or devastating cuts to the state services they depend on,” Murray said in a statement.

Republican Dino Rossi, Murray’s leading opponent, said the bill solves nothing.

“This is a stopgap measure which temporarily bails out states, letting them put off making the same tough budget decisions Washington state families are making every day,” Rossi said in a statement. “The measure proposed by Sen. Murray contained a permanent tax increase to pay for temporary spending, in addition to cutting needed money from our men and women in uniform.”