Congressional spending and economic stimulus programs are once again highlighting the differences between the top two contenders in the race for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Charles Djou was among the members of the U.S. House called back from their summer recess last month to meet in special session to vote on the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, which provides about $26 billion in aid to states.
The Senate had passed it the previous week.
Djou, the only Republican in Hawaii’s four-member Congressional delegation, was also the only one to vote against the measure.
"We should exercise fiscal responsibility, and that particular bill — where we were cutting food stamp benefits, increasing the size of the deficit and increasing taxes — as a matter of public policy, that’s a bad idea," he said Friday.
Officials said Hawaii’s share of the latest stimulus program is expected to be about $100 million.
"Hawaii’s going to get a small portion of the bill, and of course I’m always happy when Hawaii gets additional resources from the federal government, but I think it is fundamentally unfair that we’re asking Hawaii taxpayers to bail out other states that have been incredibly reckless in their budgeting process and have been unable to balance their budgets," Djou said.
The measure passed the House by a 247-161 vote, with 25 members not voting.
The vast majority of Democrats — many of whom are facing tough re-election battles against conservative opponents critical of runaway government spending — voted in favor of the bill.
The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won’t be let go. The Education Department estimated it could save 160,000 jobs.
Another $16 billion would extend, for six months, increased Medicaid payments to the states. That would free up money for states to meet other budget priorities, including keeping more than 150,000 police officers and other public workers on the payroll.
State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Djou’s likely Democratic opponent in the November general election, said she would have voted for the measure.
"In these difficult economic times, the ability to call upon federal funding for part of the burden we carry in terms of the Medicaid assistance — I think it’s very critical for us to continue that," Hanabusa said.
"I think education is a major priority," she added. "This is a situation where I think there’s no question I would’ve voted for it to ensure that we keep the teachers employed."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would add about $22 billion to the national deficit in the short term, but is also expected to trim the national debt by about $1.4 billion by 2020.
Djou won a special election in May to fill the remaining time on the congressional term vacated by Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor.