Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) and Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell have at least two things in common:
1) They’ve both been villified by Democrats for their opposition to millions of dollars in a stimulus-funded expansion to unemployment benefits.
2) Regardless, both men still believe they’re on the right side of the issue.
McDonnell said the program, which would have meant $125 million more in stimulus cash for the Commonwealth, would have been “a long-term unfunded mandate” from Washington.
Like most Republican lawmakers in Richmond, McDonnell was concerned that the stimulus program forced permanent changes to Virginia law. Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine said it didn’t. And a big, nasty legislative battle ensued.
The Democratic Governors Association later funded a major television ad campaign targeting McDonnell’s opposition to the expanded benefits.
At a fundraising stop in Richmond today, I asked both McDonnell and Barbour about their views on the stimulus package and all the heat both have taken from Democrats.
“It would be stupid policy and I’m not stupid,” the Mississippi governor said about the expanded benefits.
Barbour said the program was essentially a tax increase on employment because it would have required employers to shell out more benefits. “Why in the world would wou want to do that?” he asked, given the state of the nation’s economy.
McDonnell pointed out that he asked Congress to support changes to the legislation that would have specified the temporary nature of the cuts. Democrats, he claimed, wouldn’t go along with that idea, insisting that the plan was fine as-written.
“It just got stuck into the stimulus package because [Democrats] thought they could get away with it,” Barbour added.