Levin addresses local club on economics, governing

 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
As might be expected, United States Senator Carl Levin spoke to the Grand Rapids Economic Club mostly about economics, and in the current climate that meant talking a lot about the stimulus packages and the current deficit at the Federal level.
Although the Democratic senator may not have been on his home turf, his comments were received with attention and civility. There appeared to be a sense that, even where Levin’s words were out of sync with some audience members’ political beliefs, they respected him as a reasonable and fair lawmaker. 
This started out when Jim Hackett, CEO of Steelcase, gave Levin a glowing introduction as a politician who was always willing to listen to both sides of an issue. “Political systems are as old as tribal life, and likely there will always be a for and against,” Hackett began. He said he first met the long-time Senator came when he gave him a ride to a speaking engagement, and along the way Levin asked him pertinent, well-educated questions about his business.
Hackett continued by saying Levin was “more wed to reason than rhetoric,” and that he had fought over the years consistently to level the playing field for Michigan business.
Clearly, there are challenges with moving from that reasonable approach to creating law, but Levin’s background as an attorney stands him in good stead. 
Levin, who received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1959, has served as an assistant attorney general in Michigan, and was the first general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, in 1964. After a  stint on the Detroit City Council, Levin ran for the U.S. Senate in 1978 and has been there ever since.
Levin spoke in defense of the financial bailouts and stimulus. He said as far as the government supports for financial institutions, including AIG, the path to recent economic disaster “was paved by a level of greed that went beyond historic levels, by gross misjudgment and extreme deregulation of the financial sector.” However, most in Congress felt they had no choice at the point the dire circumstances became known, because the reverberations of a bank failure would have hurt U.S. citizens at all levels.
As far as the stimulus bill, Levin said it is much more difficult to capture “jobs retained” than “jobs created,” and he feels the package has been a success overall in staving off even worse disaster.
He said the bulk of the 2009 act was tax cuts and incentives, money to help governmental units run, and extension of unemployment benefits, all of which Michigan sorely needs.
Levin gave an example of the consequences of policy decisions which many people overlook. He said in the 1980s taxation had resulted in a surplus, and the Reagan administration asked Congress to approve a rebate to taxpayers, much of which went to high earners. Levin opposed that, stating that if the money had gone towards debt retirement instead, the huge deficits experienced during the Reagan years could have been avoided.
While remaining true to his ideology that lawmakers should keep “the little guy” uppermost in mind, Levin said that next on his agenda is working to help business succeed, especially small businesses, focusing on job creation. He supports a bill to create a task force on deficit reduction, with its recommendations facing a simple up or down vote, not subject to “horse trading.”
Levin complimented retiring U.S. Representative Vern Ehlers as being the same type of fair, even-handed legislator he always strives to be.