Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Buyin' Votes

With the annual U.S. budget exceeding $2 trillion, it is difficult to track the ebb and flow of federal grants across the country with precision. But since mid-March, when the race for the presidency began to gain momentum, Bush officials have routinely fanned out across the country in a public-relations offensive hard to miss. In many cases, they are doling out cash grants, typically for the sort of projects that draw fire from administration deficit-hawks when they show up as earmarks in congressional spending bills.

In a mid-April swing through the battleground state of New Mexico, which Mr. Bush narrowly lost in 2000, a top Commerce Department aide presented $2.5 million to boost local business development. In mid-May, just a few days after Mr. Bush appeared before the American Conservative Union and vowed to 'maintain spending discipline,' the White House dispatched the Environmental Protection Agency chief to Chicago to launch a task force to coordinate environmental programs in the Great Lakes basin, a region rich in natural resources -- and votes. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio -- all of which border the lakes -- are considered close races in the presidential election. As it happens, the EPA-led event highlighted a Bush proposal to spend $45 million to clean up contaminated Great Lakes sediments, a $35 million increase from fiscal 2004.

'Ribbon-cutting ceremonies by cabinet secretaries is what we call presidential pork,' says Stephen Moore, head of the Club for Growth, a right-leaning advocacy group. 'There's not a lot of difference between Congress pushing these pork bills, and the White House going out and celebrating them.'


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