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$50 million in GOP convention money prompts dustup in Congress

If things go the wrong way in Washington this week, Minnesota could lose out on $50 million for security at next year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

If things go the wrong way in Washington this week, Minnesota could lose out on $50 million for security at next year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The federal money is tied up in the fight over how to complete this year’s spending.

On Wednesday, Republicans singled out the convention money as an example of the excessive spending for which the GOP has pilloried Democrats all fall. The threats, however, drew a sharp rebuke from Minnesota lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican.

“If the Republican leadership in the U.S. House does not want to provide the necessary security funding to protect the president of the United States, the Republican presidential nominee, convention delegates and my constituents, then this convention can go somewhere else,” said Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents St. Paul. She said she’d call on the mayor and city council to cancel the convention if the money is denied.

The $50 million is part of a massive year-end spending bill on which negotiations broke down earlier this week. The Democrats’ plan includes about $7 billion, including the convention security, designated as so-called emergency spending, which does not count against a budget cap because it is used for unforeseen or irregular circumstances.

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“Now, we’ve only known the 2008 conventions were going to occur forever, and that’s not an emergency,” said Missouri’s Roy Blunt, the No. 2 Republican in the House told a press conference Wednesday. “And those kind of things should not count.”

LeRoy Coleman, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman disagreed.

“We live in a post-9/11 world, and these conventions are national events with national security implications,” he said. “Minnesota’s cities have already begun planning the security phase of the convention. … It is essential that we provide our local law enforcement agencies with the financial resources needed to assist in securing an event of this magnitude.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, seconded that sentiment.

“We need this funding so Minnesota taxpayers won’t be left footing the security bill,” she said in a statement to MinnPost.

Congressional Republicans have joined President Bush in taking a hard line against what they deem excessive spending. Bush has threatened to veto any bill that spends above the budget ceiling he set in February.

So far, it seems to be working: Democrats, who had initially planned to spend $23 billion more than Bush proposed, government-wide, recently offered a plan that would spend $11 billion more. After Bush threatened a veto over the weekend, they are now preparing a bill at his spending level — not counting the $7 billion in emergency money, which also would go toward items like drought relief, border protection and fighting wildfires.

It’s not clear whether Bush or Congress will agree to this approach. Back in September, the Senate voted 76-15 to approve $100 million for convention security — $50 million for St. Paul and $50 million for Denver, which will host the Democratic convention. The GOP convention runs the first week of September.

Also at stake in the bill, which will total more than $930 billion, is $34.4 million in Minnesota-based earmarks, including big projects, like I-35W repairs and the Northstar Light Rail Corridor, and small ones, like cancer research at the Hormel Foundation in Austin and a gang enforcement team for Willmar.