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War Bill Includes Tempting Projects
"It gives me no satisfaction to vote against measures that I have been working for since even before [Hurricane] Katrina, but I cannot in good conscience vote for a bill that does this to our troops," Boustany said yesterday, decrying what he called the "cheap politics" of using disaster aid to win votes on a measure this controversial.
House GOP leaders have accused Democratic leaders of flagrant vote-buying.
"The war supplemental legislation voted out of the Appropriations Committee last week was an exercise in arrogance that demonstrated the utter contempt the majority has for the American people and their hard-earned tax dollars," fumed Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). "We are at war with a ruthless global terrorist network, yet the appropriators allocated hundreds of millions in funds to gratuitous pork projects."
Even some Democrats say the issue of Iraq has become far too heated to be conducive to vote-buying.
"The profile and urgency of this Iraq vote really doesn't lend itself to these kinds of side deals," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), who has pushed drought relief for more than a year.
But the success of adding the spending measures will not really be known until the votes are tallied. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), who is running for his state's governorship, has conspicuously refused to say whether he can vote against $2.9 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, including $1.3 billion for New Orleans levee repairs.
Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), usually a reliable vote for the Republican leadership, is undecided as he ponders how he can vote against drought relief he has worked for months to secure. The same goes for Musgrave, whose district has been devastated by drought.
Democrats who may well have turned solidly against the bill are still weighing their options. Last year, Rep. John Barrow (Ga.) circulated a petition trying to get Republican House leaders to schedule a vote on drought relief. This year, Barrow's advocacy has yielded $3.7 billion worth of agricultural disaster assistance in the war spending bill, which he bragged about last week in a statement to constituents. The conservative Democrat, who narrowly escaped defeat in November, is now undecided on the Iraq bill.
For the undecided, these days running up to the vote will be difficult. The vote has become a high-stakes showdown between a Democratic leadership that has staked considerable political capital on the bill and a Republican leadership demanding that its members stay united in opposition.
But votes against home-state interests will not go unnoticed. When Appropriations Committee member Rodney Alexander (R-La.) voted against the bill in committee last week, Democratic Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) shot off a statement to the New Orleans Times-Picayune declaring, "When [Gulf Coast] assistance is on the fast track, Rep. Alexander chose to stand with his party rather than with the people of his region."
North Dakota's Republican lieutenant governor, Jack Dalrymple, was in Washington last week, lobbying for agriculture disaster assistance. "What it's about is the impact on the economy of an entire region," he told the Associated Press. "When you come down to the human level, there is no question that there are farmers meeting with their bankers right now, and whether or not they can farm this year is dependent on whether this program is approved."