Last month, Bush signed what everyone agrees was one of the most bloated and wasteful agriculture bills in recent memory. Defending the president from criticism by fiscal conservatives, White House political adviser Karl Rove and White House legislative aide Nick Calio pointed to the midterm elections and all the Midwest Senate and House seats up for grabs.
“The chance to knock off some Democrats like Paul Wellstone and to help some Republicans up for re-election was the only satisfaction any of us could gain from that pork-laden bill,” says a Republican House member.
And one of the key states Bush and Rove and company targeted with the farm bill was cattle-rich South Dakota, where Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson is in a tough re-election bid against popular Republican Rep. John Thune.
The White House wants to knock off Johnson because it would help Republicans in the fight to control the Senate, and because it would be embarrassing to Johnson’s fellow South Dakotan, Senate leader Tom Daschle, albeit indirectly.
“The White House told us not to worry about fighting for a veto, to let the bill go,” says a Senate Agriculture Committee staffer. “They looked at all of those blue states on the map and saw pickups through pork.”
But it’s doubtful, unless President Bush and John Thune actually wheel the cash in on John Deeres, that South Dakotans will care where the money came from. And thanks to some clever politicking by Daschle, it now appears South Dakotans may blame the White House for not giving them enough money.
That’s because on Tuesday, Daschle very publicly asked the White House for $4 billion in emergency disaster relief funds for water-parched South Dakota. “Senator Daschle spoke to several ranchers back home and they say they are in dire need of drought relief,” says a Democratic Senate leadership aide.
Several ranchers? That’s it? “It’s anecdotal, but everyone knows the state is dealing with drought conditions there. This money is desperately needed.”
Yes, for political feed. The problem the White House has is that it built in plenty of cash for such emergencies in the 2002 Farm Bill. According to a White House legislative affairs staffer, the White House is of the opinion that the Senate can target as much of the $75 billion it wants to South Dakota, but mostly at the cost of another state’s farm budget, say, California, Arkansas or Texas.
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