Pickerington and Fairfield County's newest Congressional representative last week told a local audience that billions of dollars to be spent by the federal government to stimulate the economy aren't being earmarked for the private sector.

Pickerington and Fairfield County's newest Congressional representative last week told a local audience that billions of dollars to be spent by the federal government to stimulate the economy aren't being earmarked for the private sector.

U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, a Republican Congressman for Ohio's 7th District, appeared at a Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Feb. 19 to share his experiences since being sworn to office in January.

He also took time to decry the recent passage of a $787-billion federal stimulus package for unduly targeting government programs and services for expansion, while not doing enough to help the nation's business sector and create jobs.

"I think all of you have the right to say to Congress and this president, 'Give me my money back,' because this is a major spending plan," said Austria, who voted against the stimulus package. "The big concern I had was the amount of money we're spending, where it's coming from and where it's going to be spent."

Austria asserted that $365-billion from the package will go toward "just expanding government" for things such as arts programs and oceanography studies. He said the money should have been earmarked for businesses to help stimulate the economy.

"The discretionary spending, it wasn't focused on (creating) new jobs," he said. "My concern also was, 'How are we going to pay off this debt, and where is it driving our economy?'"

The comments were roundly cheered by the businessmen and women who came out to see Austria at the Pickerington Senior Center on Hereford Drive.

Some in attendance implored the Congressman, who represents residents of Fairfield, Clark, Greene, Fayette, Pickaway and Perry counties, to stick to his "conservative ideals" and limit government spending.

Austria was elected president of his incoming Congressional class and was appointed to the U.S. House of Representatives' Budget and Homeland Security Committee. He said he'll strive for bi-partisan cooperation with Congressional Democrats. However, he said he will continue to push for initiatives to reduce the size of the federal government, invest in the private sector and reduce taxes.

"We're going to see more and more spending, and these are your tax dollars," he said. "I do believe we could have done better."

nellis@thisweeknews.com