9 Questions with Senator Jim Webb

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2. Stimulus Package

RCP: You were one of about 15 or 20 moderate senators heavily involved in crafting a compromise stimulus plan without which the Senate would not have been able to pass the bill. If you could, take us inside the deliberations. Were these heated meetings? Did at any point you think to yourself, ‘I don't think we're going to be able to come to a compromise?'

Webb: Well, what happens in those meetings need to stay private, that's why we ask staff to leave. The clicking Blackberries in the background disappear when we ask staff to leave. But I think that the group of people who worked on this were people who believed there should be a strong stimulus package, as opposed to most Republicans, but also wanted to see it focused in a way that we could justify the programs. In the weekend before we actually started meeting, I gave very specific directions to my staff as they looked through the legislation; the same types of directions we used to develop parameters on the TARP. When you get these really massive programs, if you don't follow some guiding precepts you can get lost in the programs.

In this case, what I said to the people on my staff who were working on this is: These have to be existing programs, rather than new authorization; authorized infrastructure programs (that's point number two, there are programs that aren't infrastructure programs) and the infrastructure programs, already authorized programs, where the funding hasn't come, so when you put the funding in you kick start the program rather than having to go through the process of creating it; or money that goes directly into the hands of people that need it.

So we had gone through this whole proposal before we even sat down, and we had about a hundred billion [dollars] in questionable programs. Not that a lot of them weren't good programs, but that they weren't stimulus programs -- things that actually get in and kick start the economy. So we walked into these meetings with precepts having been drawn and with programs that could be questioned because of the precepts rather than politics. We followed that, and I followed that in private meetings all the way through. We did it again -- we did it more than once during the process. In as much as you can have a program of this magnitude put together by this many people -- I think we have something that we can say with validity to the American people: ‘We've tightened it as much as we can. We've made it relevant.' If you accept the premise that we need a stimulus, this is a good one.

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