While the ink of President Obama's signature on the $787 billion federal stimulus package still dries, congressional lawmakers have canvassed the nation this week, both selling and bashing the 1,071-page measure.
With Congress adjourned for a five-day break after last week's marathon sessions that led to the passing of one of the largest spending bills in the nation's history, most lawmakers have spent the week back home. There they have kept busy spewing their respective party's talking points about the stimulus.
Their comments offer proof that both Republicans and Democrats will live or die by the success or failure of the stimulus. With only three Senate Republicans voting for the bill, the minimum needed for its passage, and all House Republicans voting no, the battle lines have been clearly drawn.
If the package succeeds in rescuing the nation's spiraling economy, then Democrats could very well be celebrating even larger congressional majorities in 2010. But if the economy continues its downward trend despite this historically unheard of investment in federal dollars, then Republicans will have 787 billion reasons to ask voters to put them back in control of Capitol Hill.
So lawmakers acted this week like they knew that the success of the 111th Congress and the future make-up of the next Congress hinges on what happens next.
Out West, in separate speeches, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid told Nevada bankers and the Nevada state legislature how the package will put Nevadans back to work.
"This important plan has one meaning for Nevada and our country: jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs," Reid proclaimed to applauding Nevada state lawmakers.
Back on the East Coast, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer began the recess week near the Catskill Mountains, standing with Greene County officials to announce that the stimulus bill would bring $5.3 million in direct aid to that region of the state. A few days later, Schumer traveled to Upstate New York where he revealed that the plan would bring as much as $46 million to area counties.
"I am so glad we were able to successfully secure millions of additional dollars directly to the counties to help them in these very tough economic times," Schumer said.
Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio held a news conference in Columbus to tout how the stimulus package would send more than $8 billion to the state while saving or creating 133,000 jobs. Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, announced the bill would stimulate his state to the tune $1.1 billion and 12,000 jobs.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told fellow Louisianans that they could count on 50,000 jobs, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., released a county-by-county breakdown of where the estimated $73 million slated for New Jersey would go.
"I'm here to tell you that help is on the way as a result of this legislation," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., speaking this week at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "Help is on the way to Hoosiers who work hard, who play by the rules, and at the end of the day, need and deserve a break."
Meanwhile, Republican congressional lawmakers were singing a different tune about the same bill, saying the only thing it will stimulate is the national debt while mortgaging the nation's future.
Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, in his weekly column, wrote that "this massive, out-of-control spending bill will . . . do little to help Americans who are facing foreclosures, layoffs, and financial challenges. The increased debt burden could substantially affect our quality of life long after our economy recovers."
In the South, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., speaking to the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, said the stimulus package as passed did little to address the housing crisis.
"Until we fix the housing issue, I don't care how many hundreds of billions of dollars we spend, we're not going to work our way out of this," the Athens-Banner Herald reported Chambliss as saying.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told the Tulsa Beacon that Congress passed a bill that puts the ideological interests of one party ahead of the economic interests of the nation.
"This bill represents the worst act of generational theft in our history," said Coburn, who added a line often repeated this week by other Republicans from coast to coast: "If the economy improves it will be in spite of, not because of this bill."
And North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr had a unique request to his fellow Tar Heels. "I hope everybody goes home tonight and prays that [the stimulus package] works," he said at a breakfast hosted by the Elizabeth City Chamber of Commerce.
Already lawmakers in Congress are gearing up oversight mechanism for the massive law. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced plans to hold a hearing in March.
"Our goal is simple: It is to minimize the waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars proactively-particularly since they will be spent quickly and at levels previously unheard of," said Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
But, according to The Associated Press, House Republicans are not waiting for committee oversight of the stimulus. They are setting up "a stimulus-watch program" that will allow groups and individuals to report findings of project abuses as they occur once the billions of dollars start flowing.