Republican Senators Divided Over Governors Rejecting Stimulus Money

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: Stimulus funds have only just started to filter out to the states, and already several Republican senators have said they don't want all the money due to them in the $787 billion bill meant to kick-start the sputtering economy.

While it raises legal questions, the actions by governors in South Carolina and, according to more recent reports, Texas, largely fit into the broader Republican talking point that the new Obama administration is spending too much money in its effort to save the economy.

But not all Republicans agree. At a news conference with other Republicans announcing a GOP oversight initiative of the stimulus program, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who opposed the stimulus and is a former chairman of the National Governors Association, said governors who are rejecting the stimulus money now should have spoken up while the stimulus was being drafted.

"My attitude is that governors should have gotten their act together and they didn't,” he said. “The Republicans and Democrats – [Sen.] Lamar [Alexander, R-Tenn.] -- I think you were chairman of the National Governors Association too. When we were chairman, I tried to get them in a room and say look, 'Republicans, Democrats, let’s get a common thing, let’s go to the Hill and let’s do it.' And what happened was they spoke with different voices. And now, they're going to have to live with the program."

This was a bit off-message for Republicans, who have been trying to make the point that Democrats, now that they're in power, are spending too much money. The two senators joining Voinovich at the news conference, where Voinovich and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., were introduced as the two senators who will be in charge of overseeing Republican oversight of the stimulus, immediately tried to dial back the criticism.

"I think the governors have a legitimate concern here," Alexander said. "[S.C.] Gov. [Mark] Sanford is a Republican, but Tennessee's governor, a Democrat, raised an issue about whether we should accept the unemployment insurance money because it might require our state to raise taxes on employers, therefore driving jobs out of the state. That's a legitimate concern."

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has since said he will accept all the stimulus money, approximately $4.5 billion.

Alexander was asked if the governors have the ability, constitutionally, to turn down the money.

"I don't know the answer to that," he said. "But it’s a very wise question by a governor because, in Tennessee, we kept our debt low because if we we don't have to pay interest on the debt we can build schools and roads and parks. ... And what Gov. Sanford, I am sure, is saying is that if I can use that money for the long-term, I will have more money every year to spend on schools and roads and parks."

Thune said his governor has also considered turning down stimulus money that requires state matching funds and increased eligibility for programs receiving federal dollars.

"Once you've expanded the eligibility, I guess is what I'm saying, it will be difficult to tell people they are no longer eligible for this,” he said. “And so I think some of these governors have got some very legitimate questions about these funds and how they might be used. And if they're going to be forced into expanding eligibility to qualify for them and create long-term budgetary problems down the road for their states, then some of them are exercising their prerogative not to accept them and I think that is probably a fair thing for them to do.”

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