Democrats said it was hypocrisy, but Putnam said he voted against the bill in part because it “shortchanged Florida” while driving the nation as a whole “deeper into debt.”
Putnam also called the stimulus a “miserable failure” at the time.
But, years later as agriculture commissioner, his Office of Energy issued a report that had positive things to say about the stimulus, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA. “Based on reports received by the [office], the State of Florida has benefited from the investment of ARRA funds,” the report said.
By that point, every Republican state leader in the country who had railed against the stimulus had taken most of its money anyway.
Scott also campaigned against the stimulus, but his first budget was lined with $370 million in stimulus money. Scott had vetoed other money he called “wasteful.”
When it came to the federal budget, Putnam joined his other congressional colleagues in “earmarking” — directing federal spending to a hometown or pet project.
From 2008-2010 — the only years which Congress released detailed lists of earmarks and their sponsors — Putnam accounted for more than $49 million earmarks, according to the Congressional Pig Book compiled by the group Citizens Against Government Waste.
“It’s difficult to run as a fiscal conservative in the present climate while embracing earmarks,” said Sean Kennedy director of research for the group. “In the past several years, earmarks have become the most visible example of the waste, fraud, and abuse that exists in federal government.”
During Putnam’s time in Congress, the national debt increased overall from almost $5.8 trillion to more than $14 trillion, with nearly 60 percent of the increase occurring in the Bush years. The debt is now $16.7 trillion, showing it increased more than $6 trillion in Obama’s first term compared to $4.9 trillion in both Bush terms.
While Putnam voted against Obama’s big-spending bills, such as the $800 billion stimulus and the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, he supported Bush’s costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and tax cuts, which respectively cost about $1.2 trillion and $1.8 trillion over a decade.
Putnam also twice joined Democrats and a few Republicans in overriding President Bush’s vetoes.
In July 2008, Putnam and others in Congress overrode Bush’s veto of a Medicare bill that the president said in a message “would imperil the long-term fiscal soundness of Medicare by using short-term budget gimmicks that do not solve the problem.”
The month before, Bush again accused Congress of using “budget gimmicks” in a costly farm bill. “This bill lacks program reform and fiscal discipline,” Bush wrote in a veto message. “It would needlessly expand the size and scope of government. Americans sent us to Washington to achieve results and be good stewards of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars. This bill violates that fundamental commitment.”
Rural Republicans said the bill was needed to keep U.S. agriculture strong. Others fretted about losing their “brand” of fiscal conservatism. A leading Republican opponent of the bill — as well as earmarks in it — was Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, whose criticisms still echo today.
“We can say what we want at press conferences or in slogans,” Flake told The Washington Post in 2008, “but what we do on the floor screams far louder.”