Republicans, Democrats who criticized stimulus wrote letters seeking funds

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Christina Romer, a University of California-Berkeley professor and former chairman of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, discusses fiscal stimulus in an interview with Bloomberg Television special correspondent Willow Bay. Bloomberg's Deidre Bolton reports. (Source: Bloomberg)
By John Solomon and Aaron Mehta
Center for Public Integrity
Monday, October 18, 2010; 12:21 AM

Rep. Pete Sessions, the firebrand conservative from Texas, has relentlessly assailed the Democratic stimulus efforts as a package of wasteful "trillion-dollar spending sprees" that was "more about stimulating the government and rewarding political allies than growing the economy and creating jobs."

But that didn't stop the Republican lawmaker from seeking stimulus money behind the scenes for the Dallas suburb of Carrollton after the GOP campaign against the 2009 stimulus law quieted down.

Sessions wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in February urging him to give "full and fair consideration" to the affluent city's request for $81 million for a rail project, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. His letter suggested that the project would create jobs, undercutting his public arguments against the stimulus.

When asked about his letter, Sessions defended both of the positions he has taken.

"What I have not done is allow my strong, principled objection to the bill to prevent me from asking federal agencies for their full consideration of critical infrastructure and competitive grant projects for North Texas when asked to do so by my constituents," he said.

Sessions was hardly alone. Scores of Republicans and conservative Democrats who voted against the stimulus law subsequently wrote letters seeking funds. They include tea party favorites such as freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), as well as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former presidential candidates.

Like their Republican counterparts, Democratic critics of the stimulus also sent letters seeking funding afterward. Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), one of seven Democrats in the House to vote against the bill, has written letters to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke requesting funds for four broadband-related projects in his state.

Minnick declined to be interviewed. His communications director, Dean A. Ferguson, said Minnick "voted against the bill but said from that day forward that his obligation is to help his constituents."

Ferguson said he sees no problem with the system of "lettermarking," as it is known by lobbyists, because agencies have the final say on where the funds go.

"In some cases, projects Walt supported did not receive funds," Ferguson said. "They were competitively awarded and thus not earmarks."

GOP requests

The behind-the-scenes grab for stimulus dollars is a particularly sensitive topic for Republicans, who have wooed the tea party movement with an incessant attack on stimulus spending as wasteful and ineffective. The House GOP's Pledge to America campaign manifesto promises to rescind all unspent stimulus dollars if Republicans regain control of Congress in the November elections.

But several of the architects of the GOP's anti-stimulus campaign tried to secure money from the program, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), a member of the Republican House leadership who helped craft the Pledge to America.

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