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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Over the Top on TARP

It’s always fascinating to watch history being rewritten before one’s very eyes. A fresh example comes courtesy of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in a cookie-cutter press release attacking Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia and a slew of his fellow Democrats.

We were sent a version of the release headlined "New Poll: Americans at Odds with Connolly’s [or other Democrat’s] Stimulus." It cites a new Pew Research Center poll that shows most Americans don’t believe the $787 billion stimulus bill, as passed in February 2009, has helped the nation’s jobs situation.

NRCC release, April 29: Despite countless attempts by Connolly [or other Democrat] and his party bosses to divert attention from their disastrous economic policies, there is nothing they can do to salvage the irreparable damage that they have done.

     "Nearly two-thirds of Americans do not believe the $787 billion stimulus package the president passed last year has helped create jobs, according to a new Pew Research Poll.

     "Sixty-two percent of those polled said the stimulus hasn’t contributed to job creation…

     "Forty-nine percent said TARP did not prevent a more severe crisis compared to 42 percent who said it did."

It’s true that Connolly voted for H.R. 1, the stimulus measure, which passed on a mostly party-line vote. And the price tag is even larger than the original $787 billion estimate noted in the news release: It’s actually up to $862 billion, according to the most recent calculations by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

But Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland, another freshman targeted by the release, didn’t vote for the stimulus. And when the NRCC throws TARP into the picture, it’s crossing into fantasyland. The Troubled Asset Relief Program  became law in fall 2008, before Connolly, Kratovil and 24 of the other Dems targeted by the press release were even in Congress. They were elected that November, or in special elections since then.

Also, the NRCC neglects to mention that TARP was supported by the president – who, at the time, was George W. Bush, a Republican. While Connolly and the other soon-to-be lawmakers targeted by the NRCC were busy campaigning, certain incumbent lawmakers like House GOP leader John Boehner were making emotional appeals to get TARP passed.

Boehner, Sept. 29: These are the votes that separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women. …These are the kind of votes that we have to look into our soul. And understand and ask ourselves the question: What is in the best interest of the country. I believe what’s in the best interest of our country as I stand here today is to vote for this bill.

The only vote Connolly cast on TARP came in January 2009, when President Obama was seeking the release of the second half of the TARP funds. Connolly voted yes on a bill to tighten up the restrictions on how TARP funds could be used. So did 21 of the other freshman Democrats the release goes after. More recently, he has advocated that unspent TARP funds be used to reduce the deficit.