Despite opposing stimulus, Bachmann, Paulsen sought money for their home districts

Rep. Michele Bachmann
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Michele Bachmann: “I continue to oppose the so-called stimulus package because it has been a failure.”

WASHINGTON — Michele Bachmann has campaigned saying the stimulus was a “failure” and has criticized it repeatedly, including in a Townhall.com blog in January headlined “Stimulus is not creating jobs.”

Yet despite her vocal opposition to the law, the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus quietly sent at least six letters to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging stimulus funding for transportation projects in her district.

In one of them, in support of $300 million in spending for the $700 milliion replacement-bridge project crossing the St. Croix River, Bachmann cited a MnDOT estimate that the project would create nearly 3,000 jobs. In others, she noted that the projects would have economic benefits beyond just the projects in question, spurring development and private sector hiring in the communities surrounding the proposed stimulus projects.

All of Bachmann’s letters [PDF] say she is writing to “highlight an important project” submitted for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grants. Each letter closed by thanking LaHood and the Transportation Department “for your consideration this Sixth District project” and provided a staff member’s phone number in case the department had additional questions.

She wasn’t alone. Scores of lawmakers who adamantly opposed the stimulus when it was enacted (and have campaigned by saying they have or would have opposed it) later on requested money for stimulus-funded projects.

Sen. Scott Brown
REUTERS/Adam Hunger
Sen. Scott Brown

Scott Brown, the Tea Party darling who broke the Democrats’ “filibuster-proof” majority after winning a special election in Massachusetts, asked for funding despite having once said the stimulus “didn’t create one new job.” GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell and Pete Sessions — as well as some conservative Democrats like Tea Party-endorsed Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho — did the same thing.

This all despite the fact that the GOP and conservative Democrats have made opposition to the stimulus law a central piece of their campaign this fall, attacking what they call excessive and wasteful government spending. In fact, repealing unspent stimulus dollars is a key part of the House Republicans’ Pledge to America, the document that purports to outline how the GOP would govern if it took back the House.

Doing your job or having it both ways?
The stimulus funding requests were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Public Integrity — a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to investigative journalism. The CPI and MinnPost independently verified that the requests detailed in this article were from pots of money wholly funded by the stimulus.

Bachmann blasted the stimulus overall but defended the requests in a statement to MinnPost:

“I continue to oppose the so-called stimulus package because it has been a failure. It has failed at job creation, has wasted millions on everything from ‘smoking cessation activities’ to ‘tax breaks for Hollywood movie producers’ and has piled a massive amount of debt on our children and grandchildren.

“It is my obligation as a member of Congress to ensure stimulus dollars are spent on the most worthy projects. I did just that when I supported applications for the TIGER grant program.”

Rep. Keith Ellison said he didn’t see a distinction between voting against the stimulus (which he supported) and then trying to get stimulus money for projects at home.

Rep. Keith Ellison
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Rep. Keith Ellison

“It would embarrass me to do it, I would be ashamed to do what Michele does, but then again she doesn’t know shame,” he said.

In some cases, request letters came from parts of the stimulus that lawmakers said they supported, though they voted against the entire bill.

For example, Erik Paulsen said the day the stimulus passed the House that it was the “height of fiscal irresponsibility,” though he was clear to clarify that road and bridge funding was “valid government investment.”

“You can be for transport projects, and transportation infrastructure and I think you can absolutely support that without backing all the wasteful spending and pork in the stimulus bill,” said Paulsen spokesman Mark Giga. “If it was just an up or down vote on those transportation projects, I don’t know how you can’t get 435 votes for that because that’s exactly what government should be doing.”

Paulsen, who voted against the stimulus, noted in a letter to LaHood [PDF] dated Sept. 15, 2009, that a plan to add an interchange to Interstate 94 in Dayton was an “outstanding example of a transportation improvement achieving both the goals of the TIGER program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” (the official title of the stimulus law).

There was a “broad consensus” that the Brockton Lane interchange project, Paulsen continued, would act “as a catalyst for significant economic growth and job creation.” Not just for the immediate jobs, he noted, but for indirect secondary jobs, citing a figure of $1 billion in “private sector development and thousands of new construction and permanent jobs.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen
paulsen.house.gov
Rep. Erik Paulsen

That rhetoric, while consistent with what Paulsen said earlier, stands in stark contrast to the Republicans’ Pledge to America, which calls for immediately halting a stimulus that is “not working.” Paulsen has not only backed the Pledge, he’s pictured in it on page 35.

“Again, it goes back to transportation being a core function of government,” Giga said, “and the language in the Pledge isn’t about that, it’s about all the extra stuff in the stimulus.”

Not uncommon
The practice of opposing a bill but then aiming to benefit from it later isn’t unusual, congressional experts said.

“It’s a lot like the Republicans who argue against the idea of earmarks but will ask for earmarks until there’s a ban on all of them,” said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University.

As Rohde described the argument: It may be a bad law, but while it’s in place their districts shouldn’t be left out of the benefit.

“Although it can be a risky strategy if their actions are closely watched by strong challengers or reporters, members of Congress sometimes try to have it both ways by voting against a bill and seeking to benefit from its district-specific provisions after it is enacted,” said Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.

“Members talk about their vote against the stimulus bill to tout their ideological opposition to government spending even as they claim credit for the benefits that flow to the district.”

Kathryn Pearson
Kathryn Pearson

Pearson noted a similar situation when members of Congress showed up to ribbon-cuttings for projects funded by the stimulus.

President Obama blasted the dichotomy in an appearance at a stimulus-funded auto battery factory in Holland, Mich. Near him on stage was Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who had voted against the stimulus but attended the ribbon-cutting.

“Some made the political calculation that it’s better to obstruct than lend a hand,” Obama said. “They said no to the tax cuts, they said no to small business loans, they said no to clean energy projects. It doesn’t stop them from coming to ribbon cuttings.” (Hoekstra would later call those comments “unpresidential.”)

Ellison agreed with Obama.
“It’s emblematic, isn’t it? It’s emblematic of the hypocrisy that the Republicans are promoting every day,” said Ellison. “They’re at ribbon cuttings for stimulus projects, and they are going to try to condemn it as wasteful spending and take credit for it at the same time. I just pray the public sees through it.”

Rohde and Pearson agreed that, while the issue may be likely to be taken up by opponents, it’s unlikely to affect many people’s votes.

“I don’t think there are many constituents who will be bothered by the perception of inconsistency here,” Rohde said. Supporters will excuse it, opponents and maybe a few hardcore conservatives will be outraged.

“Then there are the people in the middle, but I think they’ll be persuaded by the argument that maybe it was bad policy but that their representatives had an obligation to make the best of it,” Rhode said.

Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/18/2010 - 06:44 am.

    Based on the thinking here, though, you might also say that a country that believes in public infrastructure and sound finances will get a better boost from stimulus than one that is skeptical of public infrastructure and sound finances.

    I suspect the hypothesis is fairly true in either direction.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/18/2010 - 07:10 am.

    It is this same attitude that allowed the Cheney/Bush regime to turn a budget surplus into the largest deficit in the history of the US while crashing the national economy, all in only eight years of Bushco.

    While the Republicans controlled congress and “W” was in the White House, our “fiscally conservative” friends never objected to a single penny of the spending he wanted to do and added Trillions of additional dollars to future government obligations while giving themselves and their rich cronies billion dollar “no bid” government contracts and huge tax cuts.

    But with their Propaganda Ministry, weasel news to spread false and misleading information and make sure that their “base” ignores the truth and continues to blame Democrats and big government for all their problems, and the MSM generally letting the weasel call the tune for national coverage on every issue, they don’t have much to worry about.

    If the US eventually goes to its grave, those responsible for killing it by taking so much of it’s economic resources into their own pockets that there was nothing left to keep the rest of the nation alive, will just take the wealth they’ve extracted from the rest of us (especially the Republican “base”) and move off shore.

    That Republican base will never realize, nor be allowed to recognize that it is the big money “I’ve got mine, but I want all of yours, too” wing of the Republican Party that is stripping them of their assets, their income and any hope they ever had of a comfortable retirement.

    I suspect Mr. Paulsen is in on that game, but I wonder if Ms. Bachmann is capable of comprehending what a useful tool she is in keeping the “base” in the dark, upset about all the wrong things and pointed in the wrong directions; the equivalent of the attractive person used by a pickpocket to distract their victim while they make off with the wallet containing their cash and their credit cards.

  3. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 10/18/2010 - 07:10 am.

    The replacement cost for the St. Croix bridge is projected to be closer to $700 million, not $300 million, so either MinnPosts’s or Bachmann’s numbers are slightly off. It may be a moot point anyway, as the National Park Service just nixed this monstrosity across a National Scenic Riverway.

  4. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/18/2010 - 07:44 am.

    I don’t blame them for asking for money that is there. What is horrible is that publicly they say the stimulus creates no jobs. Then privately they ask for funds in order to create jobs. The money is there and they owe it to their districts to ask for it, but they don’t have to lie about it.

  5. Submitted by Roger Buoen on 10/18/2010 - 08:33 am.

    Re Karl Bremer’s comment: Thanks, Karl. The story has been clarified.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/18/2010 - 09:07 am.

    Sanctimonious posturing is a right-wing specialty, so the discrepancy between public statement and private letter shouldn’t be a surprise. Demagoguery is, by definition, ethically bankrupt, so why not take advantage of an opportunity to play both sides of the issue? Make sure your constituents know that those jobs were brought to the district by Y-O-U, while decrying the “waste and fraud” of a spending bill that “doesn’t work.”

    Then insist your opponent is morally sleazy, while you represent solid Midwestern values.

  7. Submitted by Joel Reiter on 10/18/2010 - 09:18 am.

    There is no story here. Republicans fought hard to prevent an incompetent federal bureaucracy from stealing money from their constituents. Since Democrats controlled Congress, the Republicans were unsuccessful. Once the money was stolen, the Republicans did their best to get a sliver of it back for their constituents. And now we have this idiotic media gotcha. Hypocrisy? That’s like saying the police are hypocrites for returning stolen property.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/18/2010 - 09:36 am.

    Joel–
    Knowingly receiving stolen property is a crime.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2010 - 09:42 am.

    This has always been the insidious thing about the Republican Party. They campaign on principle but they really just want power, and they’ll wield that power as they see fit when they get it. Reagan campaigned on limited government but then double the deficit with defense spending. It turns out that the image of “small government” these guys have in mind is shaped is quite capricious and nearly as rooted in principle as Republicans would have you believe. This is why they deliver huge deficits instead of balanced budgets whenever they get into power. It’s also why it’s important not to forget who these guys are when they pretend to be moderates. If they get the power they want they will wield it according to their social agenda. Emmer may not be talking a lot about his right wing agenda of intolerance but rest assured, if he gets elected, you’ll see emerge in full force.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2010 - 09:58 am.

    You’ve certainly got the goods this time. Well done; I’ll be writing to Rep Bachmann to suggest she not soil her hands with porkulous cash again.

    I’m wondering, however, about the connection between MinnPost and The Center for Public Integrity.

    I’ve noticed that Minnpost advertises extensively for “MinnesotaIndependent” and now I see MinnPost is collaborating with The Center for Public Integrity. It’s an acknowledged fact that the “Center for Public Integrity” and “MinnesotaIndependent” are largely financed by Soros through one of his dozens of front groups.

    Straight up question: Does MinnPost receive funding from directly from George Soros via his Open Society Institute, through any of his 527 front groups or “think tanks”?

  11. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/18/2010 - 10:04 am.

    I take issue with my representative calling ‘smoking cessation activities’ wasteful. What is a waste is the money spent, work and school time missed, and lives lost prematurely due to tobacco-related illnesses.

  12. Submitted by Laurie Zelesnikar on 10/18/2010 - 10:19 am.

    This morning’s C-span “Washington Journal” cited this piece and your by-line, Derek — very nice recognition and great info for their target audience.

  13. Submitted by dan buechler on 10/18/2010 - 10:29 am.

    Of course Paulson’s constituents get the money they are the only productive district in the state. We got the 394 lexus lane and Mollnauer’s highway to nowhere.

  14. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/18/2010 - 11:42 am.

    There is always plenty of hypocrisy to go around for both parties, but this is just a classic case of publicly saying one thing and doing another. Bachmann and Paulsen actually campaigned on not taking any of that “evil” stimulus money and then tried to get some of in the most underhanded way

  15. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 10/18/2010 - 11:57 am.

    So, if we apply this logic to other circumstances, does this mean that if a taxpayer votes down a levy for their local school district that they shouldn’t let their kids used anything purchased with those dollars, should the levy pass?

  16. Submitted by Luke Soiseth on 10/18/2010 - 12:17 pm.

    Sad how this will elicit a great big ho-hum from just about anyone who hears it. This is the Republican M.O. Big government is bad unless it’s the parts that I want or need for myself, my district or to get re-elected. Then it’s bad again. Great article, however. Glad to hear it got some time on Washington Journal.

  17. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 10/18/2010 - 12:21 pm.

    And then there is my Representative, John Kline (CD2), who both lambasted the stimulus and berates those who take earmarks, and then actually follows his beliefs by not asking for either stimulus money or applying for earmarks, leaving Dakota County and the rest of his District up a creek without funding for various road and other transit projects, along with anything else we might qualify for.

    As much as I dispise the hypocrisy displayed by Bachmann, Paulson and others, at least their districts are receiving funding for projects that qualify.

  18. Submitted by B Maginnis on 10/18/2010 - 12:25 pm.

    I’ll tell you what, even Lambert would agree that the bottleneck at Albertville on 94 is a headache, that needs fixin’.

    Although he is more commonly found on 35W heading north to his well-shellacked fortress of solitude

  19. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/18/2010 - 03:23 pm.

    Thomas:

    I don’t know if George Soros provides funding to the Center for Public Integrity and/or MinnPost. If he does, it is out of his concern for — and support of — a free press. He seems to be the only Democratic millionaire (we have very few) regularly vilified by the Right, and always because he is acting on behalf of good journalism and civil rights worldwide.

    MinnPost — Congratulations. You and the CPI made it to C-Span for a call-in segment on this morning’s Journal.

  20. Submitted by dan buechler on 10/18/2010 - 05:29 pm.

    #17 My right wing fiends say you can always move. It’s a free country. Especially south of the river (Kline is known to be a secret member of Greenpeace).

  21. Submitted by Laurie Kramer on 10/18/2010 - 06:03 pm.

    Thomas,
    MinnPost does not “advertise” for the Minnesota Independent. MinnPost does not receive any money from any Soros source. We do collaborate with the Center for Public Integrity and other colleagues in the Investigative News Network. You say it’s an “acknowledged fact” that CPI is largely financed by Soros. According to CPI’s leader, Bill Buzenberg, less than 2% of its funding over the past four years has come from Open Society Institute, and none from any other Soros source.

  22. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/19/2010 - 08:58 am.

    Thanks Joel.

    Knowing that the Soros network is limiting it’s MinnPost contribution to content is comforting.

    Mr. Buzenberg’s accounting brings to mind the old “Monte Python” “Spam” bit: “Try CPI, it’s not got much Soros in it!”

  23. Submitted by Joel Kramer on 10/19/2010 - 10:06 am.

    Thomas,

    You misstate the facts by a factor of more than 25, and then you cover that with snide.

  24. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/19/2010 - 10:55 am.

    Joel, with all due respect, considering the history of denial, reaching in some cases outright mendacity, groups that have accepted Soros’ cash exhibit (a history that your own Eric Black has corroborated from personal experience), you’ll forgive my skepticism.

    Personally, I find the agreement to secrecy common to Soros beneficiaries to be an implicit acknowledgement that, despite protestations to the contrary, donors do buy influence, period.

    Too, one cannot help but wonder why anyone would accept assistance, material, financial or otherwise from a source they are loath to acknowledge.

  25. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 10/19/2010 - 09:03 pm.

    Tom can’t beat the message so he tries to distract from it with attacks on the messenger. He does not dispute the facts.

    Bachmann wants money from the bill she opposed and still opposes.
    Fine. But hypocrisy is nothing new to Bachmann.

    What is new is that by her own words, she says the bill produces jobs, lots of them, while telling everyone it has not, does not and will not. Which is it Michele?

    Her September 15, 2010 letter to the US DOT (Transportation agency of the federal government) asking for this stimulus money admits that it will produce jobs, over 2900 jobs, not just during the project but after it as well.*

    This illustrates how irresponsible and disingenuous Bachmann really is – because if she had prevailed in her hidebound opposition to the stimulus bill, this funding would not be available and those jobs would have less of a chance of coming to Minnesota.

    The same old scripted talking points are not going to bring jobs to Minnesota.
    But Bachmann seems unwilling and unable to leave her old script behind.
    She just keeps on repeating the same old lines over, and over, and over again.

    We need someone who is not stuck in the past, who thinks for herself and is willing to work to bring jobs to Minnesota – Tarryl Clark.

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