MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
Rep. Denny Rehberg said the economic crisis and bailout are the biggest issues he's dealt with while in Congress. And while he voted against the bailout package adopted by Congress this month, he said he understands some sort of stimulus legislation was necessary. Rehberg said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that he simply opposed the version that was adopted, and rejected a process he says skipped a thorough vetting of details. Rehberg, a Republican, said he prefers tax breaks, credits and incentives for investing in the market as a way of dealing with the economic crisis, and wishes harsher punishments were included for those responsible for problems on Wall Street. But now that the bailout has become law, and is being implemented by the Bush administration, Rehberg says he hopes it works. "It is probably the single most important issue I have ever had to deal with," Rehberg said. "It is the economy, it is the fabric of America." Rehberg appeared frustrated that the measure cleared the House on a 263-171 vote and was signed by President Bush without going through the committee process. He said there was resistance at all levels to any alternatives. Rehberg said he believes government created the problem by using such institutions as Fannie Mae to promote riskier home loans. "And then they turn around now and say we need a government solution," Rehberg said. The lack of oversight is troubling, too, Rehberg said. He said the Bush Administration has unheard-of autonomy in deciding when and how to spend $700 billion. "This ought to drive you all crazy as taxpayers," Rehberg said. The measure, he said, created some tension between him and the White House. But he said it's not the first disagreement he has had with the president, pointing to such issues Amtrak funding and country-of-origin labeling. "We've got into some pretty angry conversations," Rehberg said. Vice President Dick Cheney called him before the bailout vote to seek his support. "I said, 'no,'" Rehberg said. "I said 'Dick, you and I have too much history. Do you really want me to go through all my examples of how the government has screwed up?" Rehberg said that the most difficult issues facing the next Congress with be health care affordability and access, along with illegal immigration. But he expects big disagreements with Democrats if they control Congress and the White House. He said Republicans allowed the deficit to get too big, but says it could even be worse under Democrats. "We spent too much, yes, but they wanted to spend even more," Rehberg said.