WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill accused Missouri officials of political dishonesty Monday for bashing big spending by Washington while using federal stimulus money to help balance the state budget.
McCaskill didn't call out anyone by name, but the Democratic senator generically targeted Republicans who control both the Missouri House and Senate.
"Instead of anybody in the state saying, 'Thank you for helping us in this incredibly difficult time in the economy,' they're busy saying 'Washington is evil,'" McCaskill said in an interview. "Right now, they're having it both ways — they're railing against Washington spending, and then they're busy spending" the federal stimulus money.
Missouri's 2010 budget includes hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars for education and health care, some of which helped avoid cuts in other areas by freeing up state dollars that otherwise would have gone to public schools and Medicaid for low-income residents. Missouri's budget includes hundreds of millions of additional federal stimulus dollars earmarked for highways, energy efficiency programs, high-speed Internet and other projects.
The 2011 budget proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon would rely on an additional $1.2 billion of stimulus money for education and health care. That includes $300 million which Nixon assumes Missouri would receive if Congress decides to extend the enhanced Medicaid payments under the stimulus plan for an additional six months.
Republican House and Senate leaders have criticized Nixon for counting on money the state is not guaranteed to receive. Republican Senate leaders also have chided Nixon for not proposing to finance the full amount called for under Missouri's K-12 school funding formula.
Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and Majority Leader Kevin Engler have said they are committed to fully funding school aid next year. McCaskill highlighted such pledges as part of her frustration.
"They couldn't do that under any circumstances were it not for the stimulus," McCaskill said.
McCaskill said she plans to send a letter Tuesday to Allen Icet, Missouri House Budget Committee chairman, and Rob Mayer, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, asking them what cuts they would make if Congress were to decide not to provide any further stimulus money.
Staff for Mayer and Icet said they were in committee meetings Monday and not immediately available.
McCaskill said she isn't necessarily advocating that Congress should halt stimulus aid to states, but rather trying to point out that it has helped keep state finances afloat.
As McCaskill spoke in Washington, some Republicans in Jefferson City continued to criticize federal spending.
State Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, who is running for U.S. Senate, has denounced the federal stimulus package as a debt to foreign countries that invest in U.S. currency.
"The concerns I have with the growth of our federal government are real and are shared by the citizens of this state," Purgason said in a statement released simultaneously — but not in reaction to — McCaskill's comments. "Mounting federal debt and the growth of government in general are major concerns as more and more of the debt is passed on to our children and grandchildren."