Thursday, August 23, 2007

Childish Republican Staffers Target Ben Nelson in Earmark Battle

by Kyle Michaelis
A story from last month that ended with Sen. Ben Nelson retracting a controversial earmark request for an Omaha-based company that employs his son found renewed life thanks to a series of e-mails coming to light that suggest the controversy and criticism directed at Nelson may have been quite personal and probably even partisan in nature.

As reported by The Hill:
A battle between the offices of Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) over a controversial earmark intensified earlier this month, displaying how debates on Capitol Hill sometimes can turn personal.
The senators had been at odds over the matter for much of the summer, but it would reach a new level when John Hart, communications director for Coburn, forwarded a news article detailing his boss's request for an investigation of a defense contractor. The target of the would-be investigation, 21st Century Systems Inc. (21CSI), employs Patrick Nelson, the son of the centrist senator. Sen. Nelson had requested an earmark for 21CSI, triggering a heated battle between the senators that has raged for weeks. 
"This will shut that fucker up," Hart stated in an Aug. 1 e-mail sent from his Senate account to several of his colleagues. "I can't wait to send an In Case You Missed It to Nebraska press that will be forwarded to assface".... Hart has since said that his missives were directed at Nelson spokesman David DiMartino, not Sen. Nelson.

I wish I could hold this e-mail up as an example of Republicans' super-partisan mentality, but this seems to be more a case of simple stupidity. Why might Coburn's staff bear such animosity towards Nelson - or, even towards his spokesman Mr. DiMartino? I suspect it has something to do with the following article from July's Omaha World-Herald that proved Nelson's staff quite adept at putting their Republican assailants back on the defensive:
Sen. Ben Nelson had a message Tuesday for Sen. Tom Coburn: Take care of your own backyard before you attack other lawmakers' earmarks. The Oklahoma Republican filed an amendment last week to eliminate $7.5 million that Nelson, D-Neb., wanted to steer to Omaha defense contractor 21st Century Systems Inc., which calls itself 21CSI. A Coburn spokesman compared 21CSI military computer software to video games and criticized the project as classic pork barrel spending. Nelson's office staff responded by defending the earmark as important to national defense, but also decided to take a look at earmarks in the defense bill that would benefit Oklahoma. They came across a $5 million earmark for military simulation training in Oklahoma. The earmark was inserted into the bill by the other Oklahoma senator, Republican James Inhofe, who could not be reached. That simulation training program has involved the Institute of Creative Technologies, which has received millions through federal earmarks over the years, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. One product of the funding was a video game called Full Spectrum Warrior that proved commercially successful but of limited military use, according to the group. "Senator Coburn's derided the research and development work done in Nebraska by mischaracterizing it as 'video games' and deemed it unworthy of funding, while ignoring and tacitly approving a $5 million earmark for his home state that actually does fund video game development," said Nelson spokesman David DiMartino.
That's a pretty damn fine retort if you ask me. Regardless of the ultimate merit of the 21CSI funding, there's nothing quite like the revelation of this blatant hypocrisy to make Coburn and his staff look like a bunch of fools.

Of course - as previously stated - Nelson has withdrawn his earmark request, but the actual spending remains in the Senate's appropriations bill. It faces a long road in the House, though, because Nebraska's Republican Congressmen are so uniformly lacking in stature and influence. And, I fear the same will hold true of every dollar Nebraska seeks back from the federal government until we elect some Representatives who are honestly worthy of their colleague's respect.

Until then - to paraphrase Second District Congressman Lee Terry - if you want something done in this state, you should "just go talk to Ben."

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