JEFFERSON CITY — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Blunt denounced the federal stimulus package for driving up the debt but acknowledged Thursday that it included some worthwhile projects.
Blunt, a southwest Missouri congressman, voted against the stimulus legislation in 2009 but has been criticized as hypocritical by Democrats for publicly supporting local projects that received federal stimulus money.
Speaking Thursday to reporters at the Missouri Capitol, Blunt said he hadn't knowingly appeared at ceremonies for stimulus-funded projects. But "if I had, I'm not going to be embarrassed about it," Blunt added.
"Surely in spending $800 billion, some of it was worthwhile," Blunt told members of The Associated Press and the Missouri Press Association at their annual Capitol media event.
On Wednesday, Blunt toured several Springfield-area projects funded through the Brownfield redevelopment program for contaminated sites. The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded about $1.1 million in stimulus grants for Springfield-area Brownfield projects.
Last July, Blunt attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a new visitors' center at a Neosho fish hatchery run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The facility received $1 million in stimulus funds to make it energy-efficient, including $100,000 for a solar water-heating system for pallid sturgeon.
Blunt has been a longtime supporter of both the fish hatchery and Brownfield redevelopment projects.
But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has highlighted both projects as an example of hypocrisy by Blunt "for talking out of both sides of his mouth" about the stimulus money.
Blunt is the leading GOP candidate to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kit Bond in the November elections. Also running in the Republican primary is lightly funded state Sen. Chuck Purgason, who similarly denounced the stimulus package Thursday for increasing the national debt.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the lone Democrat in the Senate race, was invited but did not attend Thursday's media event at the Capitol. Campaign spokesman Linden Zakula said Carnahan was attending three fundraisers in Seattle, including one with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.
Carnahan indicated last March that she would have supported the stimulus legislation.
President Barack Obama marked the one-year anniversary of congressional passage of his stimulus package Wednesday by declaring it an unprecedented success.
Over the past year, the nation has seen economic growth, although the unemployment rate remains high. The federal government has spent just one-third of the massive stimulus plan, which originally was estimated at $787 billion but is now priced at $862 billion.
"The stimulus bill added incredibly to the debt," Blunt told the media. "A stimulus is supposed to be timely and targeted and temporary, and this is none of those."
Purgason has made the national debt his top campaign issue. He blames not only the stimulus package but fellow Republicans — including Blunt — for increasing the debt when they controlled the House, Senate and White House in the early 2000s.
Missouri is using nearly $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funds for education and health care in its 2010 budget, some of which has helped avoid cuts. The 2011 budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would rely on an additional $1.2 billion of stimulus money for education and health care.
Purgason said he voted against the state budget last year because he opposed using the one-time stimulus money for ongoing government programs. When the stimulus money runs out next year, Purgason predicted that states will have to make larger cuts.
"That federal money is going to continue to dig bigger holes for the states to climb out of," Purgason said.