Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TOP STORY >> Pryor favors budget cuts

Leader senior staff writer

Despite calling for virtually all parts of the U.S. budget to be reconsidered, not just the “discretionary” 15 percent, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) Friday night said money to construct a new I-40 interchange at Hwy. 89 on the west side of Lonoke should be paid for with stimulus funds.

He was the guest speaker at the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce annual banquet.

Holding up a poster depicting the federal budget deficit over time, Pryor focused mostly on the deficit, the economy and called for a radical review.

He noted that the bright spot on the budget chart corresponded with President Bill Clinton’s years in office when Clinton balanced the budget and successfully worked to eliminate the deficit.

Those who are critical of the stimulus spending, he said, $10 million of that has been reinvested in Lonoke County.

The stimulus saved or created 2.1 million jobs, he said. “We would be at 12 or 13 percent unemployment right now without the stimulus spending,” Pryor said.

“Don’t buy into the doom and gloom,” he added.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” Pryor said. “We can chart a course for new jobs through new industry. We need to invest in infrastructure,” including more and better interstate highways, such as “the other Lonoke interchange.”

He also called for implementing a new generation of air-traffic control technology and a real commitment to increasing broadband Internet.

The country was settled first along the rivers, then along the railroads and finally along the interstates, he said. Now it’s being settled along the broadband corridors, he said.

He called for continued investments in young people and said politicians in Washington needed to find ways to end partisanship and for Republicans to stop filibustering everything they don’t like.

President Barack Obama wants to freeze discretionary spending, Pryor said. He should be praised for that, but its not enough.

“We need to put it all on the table,” said Pryor. “Defense entitlements, social entitlements, everything.”

Pryor said he offered a budget amendment toward that end, which received 27 votes in the Senate. It needed 51 votes.

“We can’t solve our economic problems with 12 percent to 15 percent of the budget,” he said.

Pryor said in addition to “putting everything on the table,” the Senate needed to adopt a “pay-as- you-go policy,” where new expenditures would be offset by cuts or tax increases. He also wants to establish a debt commission and entitlement commission.

“People are very critical of the TARP spending, which cost $700 billion, but the taxpayer will be paid back at least $600 billion.

We own chunks of Chrysler, General Motors and AIG. When we sell that stock, the country could make money,” the senator said.

He decried what he called the lack of civility both in Washington and in the country as a whole.

“People are scared,” Pryor said, referring to the tough economic times. People are scared of $4-a-gallon gasoline and that government spending is out of control and that America’s role in the world is changing. “If China is going up, are we going down?” he asked.

“People are scared about us as a nation losing our moral compass.”

“Doom and gloom prevail,” he said, “but not for the first time.”

He said that’s usually the outcome when the economy is bad or for other reasons including the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, the Vietnam conflict and the Watergate scandal.

But it’s not unique to the 20th and 21st centuries.

Thomas Jefferson thought it was the end of America when President Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Adams thought it was all over when Jefferson was elected president.

“One thing that’s consistent—We are resilient and we do our best work with our backs to the wall.”

Pryor praised retiring Rep. Marion Berry, calling him “a tireless advocate and a warhorse.”

Of Arkansas’ senior senator, Blanche Lincoln, he said she was being attacked on the left by the labor unions and MoveOn.Org and on the right by the Tea Party.

“She’s done a great job as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee,” he said.