The Campaign Spot

Rendell on Sanford: ‘There is at least a fiscal reality to that argument.’

South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, standing out nationally for his effort to turn down a portion of the stimulus funds, is facing a heavy demonization campaign. Phil Klein looks at Rep. Jim Clyburn and liberal bloggers playing the race card — somewhere, Attorney General Eric Holder is saluting their courage — but it takes other forms, including Thursday’s front-page story in the Washington Post, on the tough times for the unemployed in the Palmetto State.

The not-too-subtle sub-headline: As South Carolina’s job losses grow, agencies and charities are stymied by budget cuts and politics.

The story offers plenty of anecdotes about the tough times for South Carolinians who can’t find jobs and who have no income, and those who seek to help – phone systems crashing at the Salvation Army, food pantries running out within an hour, two-and-a-half hour waits for food stamp applications. Sanford is quoted a few times, but his arguments about government needing to be “the lender of last resort, not the first” pale next to the vivid tales of woe.

It’s tough to craft a gripping anecdote about future debt taken on by this spending — but that doesn’t make the consequences any less real.

A qualified defense of Sanford came from an unlikely source Friday morning, as Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told SiriusXM’s POTUS that while he was taking all of the stimulus funds, he understood the stance of Sanford and fellow stimulus skeptic, Texas governor Rick Perry. Rendell’s comments:

There are parts of the stimulus which require states to add additional matching dollars and that’s really in this controversy over the unemployment benefits . . . There’s another $7 billion to extend coverage to people who aren’t currently covered in many states. The clearest example is part time workers.

But if you’re extending coverage to new categories of recipients, the states have to step up and give matching funds. And what Governor Sanford and Governor Perry are saying is, ‘that’s a mandate and we don’t have the extra money, and I’m not going to burden my citizens with doing that, because in a couple of years, the stimulus money is going to go away, and we’re going to be left holding the bag.’ There is at least a fiscal reality to that argument. For us, in Pennsylvania, we already do part-time workers. But even if we didn’t, I would pay the extra dollars, for one simple reason. Think about sitting across the table from someone who worked two part time jobs, lost them both, and you’re saying ’sorry, we had a chance to give you unemployment benefits for 28 weeks or 32 weeks but I decided not to.’

Again, note that Rendell’s justification shifts away from budget realities – the taxes that would have to be raised to cover the additional cost, the services elsewhere that would have to be cut, or the debt that would have to be taken on to cover the costs – to the emotionally gripping theoretical anecdote of the person across the table.

“The bottom line is, we’re in a short-term crisis,” explains Joel Sawyer, Sanford’s communications director. “We’ve been hit by the economic slowdown, just like every other state. But we have to take long view. Decisions made when crisis is at hand tend to have bad and unforeseen consequences. This stimulus package taking us toward the tipping point . . . Somebody has to pay for the stimulus at some point, either the taxpayers today, or their children and grandchildren at some point in the future.”

“When you get down to the sticky issues of ‘where does the money to pay for this come from?’ and ‘how and when does it get paid back?,’ and there aren’t good answers, you see people resort to the emotional arguments,” Sawyer said.

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