Castor previews economic stimulus package

01/05/09 Seán Kinane
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One of the most pressing priorities of the new Congress after it begins session tomorrow is to pass the largest economic stimulus bill in history.

Tampa Democrat U.S. Representative Kathy Castor held a press conference in South Tampa this morning to announce how the state and the Tampa Bay area might benefit from the recovery package.

Castor predicted the U.S. government will send Florida $2 billion for Medicaid. Castor called the funding for Medicaid “the most direct stimulus because it is directly infused into the healthcare system.”

“What we’re going to be able to do in the Economic Recovery Package is probably deliver a couple billion dollars to the state of Florida for healthcare, in particular under Medicaid. What Medicaid is, remember, children from poor families, seniors in nursing homes, and handicapped kids.”

Castor called the first few weeks of the Congressional session a “very important time for our community” because of how much the Tampa Bay area has been affected by the economic recession.

“I think the economic downturn hit the Tampa Bay area earlier and harder than many places across the country. We have a higher unemployment rate in this area than we’ve had in many, many years.”

Castor is a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which shapes policy for the Democratic Caucus. The committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday with economists. Castor said the goal is to create jobs, healthcare, unemployment benefits and transportation. Castor said she is “a little disappointed” that Tampa Bay does not have a light rail system ready to be constructed. Projects will get priority if they can show energy savings.

A new assignment for Castor will be on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which helps shape policy in health care reform, global climate disruption and energy independence.

Castor said tax cuts will also be part of Congress’ economic recovery package.

“If you look around the Tampa Bay area, we don’t have a lot of millionaires, we have a lot of hard working people. So if they’re in a family that earns $200,000 or less, it is quite likely that they’re going to see a significant tax reduction, putting that money back into their pockets where, indirectly after that, hopefully we will stimulate the economy and be able to turn things around in our community.”

Local governments and business groups have been sending Castor “wish lists” of projects they would like to be a part of the economic recovery package. Castor said she will analyze the lists and forward to Congress the projects that are “shovel-ready” and will meet the criteria of the economic recovery package including putting people to work.

Democrats originally said they wanted to quickly pass a stimulus plan so that it would be on the desk of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20, the day he takes office. But now that timeline looks unlikely. On Fox News Sunday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that it might not reach Obama’s desk until Congress goes on a weeklong break on Feb. 16, a timeline Castor thinks is more reasonable.

“This is going to be the largest economic recovery package ever passed by the government. We’re talking over $500 billion, probably closer to $700 billion. I think that the public deserves to know what’s in it, that it shouldn’t be rushed through in just a week or two, even though we need to provide an economic recovery package as quickly as possible. I think it’s quite reasonable that debate be allowed to occur, the public be allowed to review what’s in it, and that we all take a little bit of time to work together to develop the best economic recovery package.”

The Florida Legislature began a two-week special session on Monday to address the state’s $2.3 billion revenue shortfall. Castor was asked her thoughts about Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature considering “intergovernmental transfers” of funds as an option to help balance the state’s budget if Florida receives federal assistance through an economic recovery package.

“Wow. No. I think we’re all in this together and there’s got to be significant reform on the state level too. And I have to say if we’re going to provide this direct economic recovery money, for Medicaid in particular -- $2 billion, it better be used for pregnant women and children from poor families and all of those health care needs and not just used to supplant the holes in the budget and have it go to other places.”

Castor and other members of Congress will be sworn in to begin the new session on Tuesday.

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor

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