Crist Blasts Obama, Defends Taking Stimulus Cash
Gov. Charlie Crist on Saturday defended his acceptance of $15.7 billion in federal stimulus money, telling a gathering of Florida Republican leaders the cash is helping keep the state’s grim unemployment toll from growing even larger.
Embroiled in a tight U.S. Senate race that is dividing state Republicans, Crist has sought to distance himself from the Obama administration and his appearance last February with the Democratic president in Lee County, when the stimulus package was still making its way through Congress.
Crist on Saturday continued to bash Obama -- but embraced the federal handout.
“I don’t apologize for taking the stimulus money,” Crist told several hundred Republicans gathered for the party’s annual meeting. “It was important for Florida to get its fair share.”
The $787 billion stimulus package has become a political pinata for Republicans nationwide. The funding has been blamed for increasing the federal deficit and failing to provide much spark to the fragile economy, with Crist Senate rival Marco Rubio joining the chorus of critics of the plan.
Crist, however, tried to put the cash in personal terms for Florida Republican leaders, asking for a show of hands on how many had friends or relatives working in Florida’s education system.
“About 20,000 of those educators would be unemployed,” in Florida without the stimulus cash, Crist said.
“Imagine how many more in law enforcement have jobs because of the stimulus money,” Crist added. “You know, as governor, you don’t always have a choice.”
Florida’s $66 billion state budget is propped up this year by about $3 billion in federal stimulus. Next year’s budget also faces a $2.6 billion shortfall that is likely to be patched – at least in part – by the remaining share of the $15.7 billion in stimulus cash steered to the state over a three-year period from the federal treasury.
“It looks like things are starting to stabilize nationally,” Crist said of the economy. “But it is all about jobs, jobs, jobs for this administration.”
Meanwhile, Crist blistered Obama on the health care overhaul, calling it a “covert operation,” developed without sufficient input from Republicans in Congress. While Crist defended his appearance with Obama last winter in Florida – which included a hug which Crist critics have since steadily lampooned – the governor said the president’s policies are now giving Republicans hope this election year.
“This guy in the White House has done more for our party than we could ever have done ourselves,” Crist said.