Should Tennessee refuse bailout funds earmarked for the state?

What a difference an hour or two can make.

This morning I attended two meetings. The first featured WTN talk show host Ralph Bristol from Nashville’s Morning News and the second featured Jason Mumpower, the GOP Majority Leader for the TN House. The bailout and the Government’s role in influencing the lives of citizens via dispensing cash was a topic at both meetings.

In the first meeting, Bristol addressed Mitch McConnell’s plans to impact the US mortgage market. Linking to the Fox News story, Bristol noted,

McConnell on Monday demanded an amendment to President Obama’s “economic stimulus” package to give government-backed, 4% loans to homeowners – any credit-worthy borrower, including those who are seeking to refinance their loans. McConnell estimates it will save the average homeowner $466 a month — $5,600 a year, or – over the life of a 30-year mortgage — $167, 760.

He went on to say even though he stood to personally benefit from such a proposal he opposed it on principle because it was wrong for Government to be involved in the mortgage industry in such a fashion. It was little more than an appeal to voters to support him and his party because they were promising to impact citizen’s lives in ways the Constitution did not allow for. He added that until those who did not stand to benefit from a measure could vote for it and those who stood to benefit from a measure could vote against it – both votes on principle as opposed to personal benefit – the country would be at the mercy of whichever politician or political party promised the most. It was the general consensus of the meeting that sort of governance was currently the norm and there was little confidence, human nature being what it is, such tactics by Government could be stopped.

In the second meeting, Leader Mumpower mentioned Federal Bailout money in the context of how it might impact Tennessee’s state budget. Mumpower said he had some concerns about bailouts and noted Governor Bredesen might delay releasing his budget proposal until after it was clear how much money Tennessee was scheduled to receive. During the Q&A session, I asked Leader Mumpower what discussion the GOP caucus might have had about simply refusing to accept bailout money; sending it back instead on general principle. Mumpower responded the GOP Caucus had not had substantive discussions on the matter and that budget conversations would be upcoming but that there were those in the caucus who shared that sentiment.

After the meeting broke up a reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal approached me and asked me what my thoughts on the idea of refusing bailout money were. I responded that until people were willing to do the right thing regardless of personal cost, few substantive accomplishments would be realized. Those people who believe bailouts and faux Stimulus Packages are wrong have an obligation to back up their words with their actions or their words could rightly be questioned. The reporter noted that he had asked two elected representatives, also in attendance, to comment on the idea of refusing the money. He noted one simply laughed and walked away while another said if constituents found out that sort of money had been turned down when it could have been used to improve their district there would be trouble. These were Republican lawmakers. One would guess of the more conservative bent.

It’s not an outrageous proposition. Haley Barbour is considering it for Mississippi. So is Mark Sanford in South Carolina. Predictably, there has been a knee jerk reaction against the idea, with no discussion of the idea’s merit. Hopefully, the issue will get a fair consideration and airing both in the public square and in Legislative Plaza. It’s time to stand up for what we believe. If bailouts are bad, then so is taking bailout money. If bailouts are a good thing, then let’s have bailouts for everyone and not just a few. I’m curious to see what discussion this will bring to the Hill. Stay tuned …