POLITICS
04/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obey Tells GOP They Can't Have Their Pork And Eat It Too

The GOP may be the party of no -- but when it comes to individual Republican lawmakers taking credit for federally-funded projects in their home states, they're a resounding yes.

"If you look at where money went, it went to districts all over the country where members of Congress voted against the economic recovery," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a breakfast with reporters Wednesday. "Now we've seen them show up at the ribbon cuttings, by the way, elbowing their way to the front of the line."

Sen. Richard Shelby's (R-Ala.) push to secure billions in contracting dollars for a European firm that happens to employ non-union, low-wage workers in his home state is only the most vivid example of the have-it-both-ways strategy.

David Obey has had enough -- and when he speaks, members of Congress listen. The powerful Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee controls the purse strings and can decide the fate of a local project that may be crucial to a reelection -- no matter how often "pork" is derided on the campaign trail.

Obey fired off a tough letter to his House colleagues on Thursday, condemning the hypocrisy of lawmakers who vote against funding for projects after previously expressing their support.

The particular issue that got Obey riled up -- admittedly, not a hard task to accomplish -- was a funding request for a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative circulated by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

Last year, Obey increased funding for the initiative from $60 billion to $475 billion and Rogers organized his colleagues to lobby for even more.

Yet he and nearly every other Republican ended up voting against the bill that contained the funding for the project they had sought the year before, though they had gone out publicly to claim credit for it while at other times bashing Democrats for spending like "drunken sailors."

It was too much for Obey. "I feel compelled to point out the irony that some members demand that programs be fully funded and then decline to support the bill that carries out that request," said Obey, mentioning the Great Lakes project but not calling out Rogers by name in an apparent effort to make a broader warning.

"It has been my experience that a number of members who profess concern about the Great Lakes in fact voted against the bill which contained that funding when it came before the House last year. I would ask whether that is enough to give hypocrisy a bad name," Obey writes.

The Wisconsin congressman on to say that Great Lakes funding is one of his "highest priorities, "[b]ut, sometimes, there are good reasons to trim even the programs we care most about."

Obey goes on to warn that hypocrites will have less pull with him. "I would have some difficulty taking seriously members who pose for political holy pictures by sending letters asking for increased funding and then vote against that legislation that requested funding," he writes. "I understand there are huge temptations in this institution to try to have it both ways. But, in a tight budget year, that is going to be very hard even for the most spectacularly inconsistent of members."

A spokesman for Obey declined to comment on the letter, which can be read here.