10/19/2010 06:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Stimulus: Slamming It, Working It

Call it the Gripe & Grab. Call it the Rip & Reach. Or you can simply call it politics as usual.

The problem with taking a principled stand is that a principled stand can box you in. The principled stand isn't always the universally popular stand. There can be consequences.

Not to worry: If you're a congressman -- if you're dozens of congressmen, in fact -- you can duck the consequences by simply ditching the principle. Selectively, of course. And very, very privately. When you're a congressman, you never want to make a big fuss about ditching the principle. On the other hand, why let a little consistency get in the way of a whole lot of incumbency?

We're talking stimulus. (And you'd better get the children out of the room, "stimulus" -- even economic "stimulus" -- being a thoroughly dirty word these days. It may be backhoes instead of vibrators, but still...)

We're talking stimulus, which many, many congressmen have spent months and months denouncing as needless, wasteful boondoggles that do nothing but rip money from the pockets of the poor overburdened taxpayer.

These congressmen voted against stimulus. They railed against stimulus. They've been fundraising against stimulus. Except, apparently, when they want some of it.

That's the word, at any rate, from the Center for Public Integrity, the non-partisan investigative news center, whose latest discoveries splashed onto the pages of the Washington Post earlier this week.

"Scores of Republicans and conservative Democrats who voted against the stimulus law subsequently wrote letters seeking funds," the story reported. "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."

The center uncovered "nearly 2,000 requests from lawmakers in both parties to secure funding from the $814 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." Oops. Or maybe not. "Oops" requires people to be embarrassed by their own hypocrisy. But what if they're impervious to embarrassment? Then what happens?

What happens is you get statements like this one from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), who was outed in the Post for quietly trying to get $81 million in stimulus funds for an affluent Dallas suburb -- after he had "relentlessly assailed the Democratic stimulus efforts as a package of wasteful 'trillion-dollar spending sprees.'"

"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."

Nice try. And he's far from the only one working both sides of the stimulus street.

If the distinguished (and not-so-distinguished) members want to make nice to influential constituents, they can write the letters and push for the funding -- but then they need to dial down the anti-stimulus, anti-government rants. That's one way to play it.

Or if they want to keep slamming the stimulus, they can do that instead. They can keep saying that stimulus spending is no way to spur an economy stuck in the doldrums. (They're wrong, but they're free to keep saying it.) But then they have to say the very same thing when those influential constituents come calling for help in prying some of that evil stimulus money loose.

"Sorry," they have to say. "Since I think the stimulus is a perfectly rotten idea, and since I'm on the record loud and clear slamming the thing, I can't help you grab some of the loot. And if that costs me your support -- well, that's the price I'll have to pay for sticking to my principles."

You can stop giggling now.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at