Monika Mathur and Richard Lardner
Washington — Georgia’s Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, voted against the $787 billion economic stimulus package, blasting the bill as a bloated government giveaway.
But their disdain didn’t stop them from later asking Defense Secretary Robert Gates to steer $50 million in stimulus money to a constituent’s bio-energy project.
Gates didn’t do it, but Chambliss, Isakson and other Republican opponents of the stimulus aren’t going empty-handed.
Billions of dollars worth of Defense Department stimulus money is paying for repairs and construction at military installations in areas represented by lawmakers who said “no” to the legislation, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
The request from Chambliss and Isakson isn’t the only one Gates and other top defense officials received before and after President Barack Obama signed the stimulus law in February. Their pitch stands out, though, because of the GOP’s staunch opposition.
As Congress considered the legislation earlier this year, Republicans called it a partisan bill bound to make the size of government grow, not the economy. Not a single House Republican voted in favor of the bill; only three Senate Republicans did so.
Trashing the stimulus and also welcoming the money is a sore point for Democrats who say the GOP can’t have it both ways. But Republicans say there’s no inconsistency in opposing wasteful spending while also backing worthwhile projects.
The Pentagon is staying out of the fight. Navy Cmdr. Darryn James, a Pentagon spokesman, said political considerations were not a factor as defense officials put together the department’s stimulus spending plan.
The two main criteria were that projects could be started quickly to boost the economy and would also improve the quality of life for military personnel.
In statements, Chambliss and Isakson said helping their constituents is an important part of their jobs. In this case, it was Bell BioEnergy of Tifton, Ga., which is developing a process to convert waste into fuel.
Overall, Georgia is getting just over $200 million in defense stimulus money for work at installations that include the Army’s Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon, and Moody Air Force Base.
Just a few days after criticizing the “staggering” cost of the stimulus, Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican from Kentucky, urged Gates to consider using stimulus money to renovate a military hospital at Fort Knox, a sprawling Army base located in his congressional district.
The Pentagon’s stimulus spending plan shows no money for the hospital repairs. But of the more than $159 million in military stimulus money slated for Kentucky, almost $38 million is for other repair work at Fort Knox. Most of the total, $110 million, goes to Fort Campbell, home to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. It’s in Republican Ed Whitfield’s district.
Oklahoma Republican Mary Fallin joined her Democratic colleague, Rep. Dan Boren, in asking Army Secretary Pete Geren to use $8.4 million in stimulus money for repairs to buildings at two Oklahoma National Guard sites.
Fallin had called the stimulus a “Big Brother spending program” that didn’t do enough to finance needed infrastructure projects. The money she and Boren sought isn’t in the Pentagon’s spending plans.
The Pentagon was allotted $7.4 billion in stimulus money, the bulk of it for overdue base repairs and new construction. About $5 billion is going to 16 states that top the Pentagon’s stimulus spending list, including California, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky, where the military has a significant presence.
About $1.2 billion is for new hospitals at Fort Hood, an Army base in Texas Republican John Carter’s district, and Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in California Republican Darrell Issa’s district. The two hospitals are the largest individual projects to be paid for with defense stimulus dollars.
Carter voted against the bill, saying the stimulus would pile debt on future generations. But he hailed the $621 million hospital project as a victory for the economy in central Texas, where Fort Hood occupies more than 217,000 acres.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is logging Republican names into a “Hypocrisy Hall of Fame,” an online catalog of GOP lawmakers who voted against the stimulus package yet are “celebrating the benefits of President Obama’s economic recovery bill in their districts.”
One of the most recent names added to the Democratic list is Rep. Bill Young of Florida, whose congressional Web site contains a page with dozens of links to help Floridians “take advantage of federal stimulus money.” Another is Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, a top House Republican who supports a high-speed rail project that’s included in the bill.