The Blame Game


Professor Christopher Hood (9:54) - Apologies for the sound.


Claiming Credit

A recent piece on credit claiming and immigration.

And, a story on credit claiming from 20+ years ago (source):

The way House and Senate members fight to get credit for those federal projects back home, you'd think it was their money.

They put out press releases, testify at hearings, talk about them at town meetings and attend the ribbon cuttings. They defend them in the chambers of Congress when critics label their roads, buildings, dams or research grants "pork barrel."

And don't dare try to take their credit away - especially if you're another member of Congress.

Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., who was appointed last spring and is the underdog in a special election this fall, beat Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in announcing $ 15 million in a spending bill for bus transportation improvements at Pittsburgh's airport.

Specter responded by storming to the Senate floor and delivering a speech on how he'd been working on the project for years. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., chairman of the transportation appropriations subcommittee, had let Wofford announce it even before the bill was formally approved.

This "warrants notice to the Senate and ought to be made part of the record ... an action which I consider to be grossly inappropriate," Specter declared.

"It's surprising to me he's making such a big deal out of it," said Wofford's spokesman, David Stone.

What's really surprising is how rare it is for such things to spill out into the open. In fact, credit-claiming is a fairly routine and predictable business.

The Democrats control Congress, and therefore get a better shot at putting stuff into spending bills for their home districts.

The Republicans control the White House, which usually gives GOP lawmakers first crack at announcing the grants made by federal agencies.

Take Kansas, for example. Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, as the delegation's big cheese in Congress, gets to announce virtually every grant any agency makes in the state.
If there were a Democrat in the White House, perhaps one of the state's Democratic House members would compete for that role, but Dole would still get more than his share.

Missouri Sens. John Danforth and Christopher Bond, both Republicans, have taken to issuing joint press releases to announce federal grants. Danforth, with his seniority, could hog the limelight, but Bond faces re-election next year and Danforth wants to help him out.
Illinois has no Republican senators, so the GOP administration tries to give House GOP Leader Robert Michel of Peoria advance notice of actions affecting the state so he can get his press releases out first.

West Virginia has no Republicans in Congress, but it probably wouldn't matter if it did.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd is chairman of the appropriations committee, upon which federal agencies depend for their money. Byrd can announce anything he wants to, and he makes sure there's plenty for him to announce.

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York, a Republican with far less seniority than Byrd, isn't able to come up with as many goodies, although he's known for trying as hard as anyone. And he certainly gets the most from each bit.

D'Amato recently announced that the Federal Aviation Administration was awarding a $ 39 million grant to the Buffalo airport for a new passenger terminal and other improvements. Then he sent the same press release out a month later, after a 30-day review period had passed, to announce it again.

D'Amato's an exception, but most lawmakers do little of this credit-grabbing in Washington, where critics might see it as unseemly.

For example, Byrd's office distributed in West Virginia but resisted furnishing Washington reporters with his press release on moving part of the CIA to his state.
Lawmakers concentrate their efforts on the folks back home, the voters, who are presumably impressed with their ability to "bring home the bacon." Some go so far as to get projects named after themselves.

You'd think it was their money.

Previous: Discussion Questions - Policy Windows
Next: Open Discussion Forum - Media, Framing, and Strategy

Leave a comment

Recent Entries

Discussion Questions - Policy Success
What lessons from this week's readings can policymakers learn and apply to policy issues currently being debated (e.g. immigration, gun…
Open Discussion Forum - Finding Success
Comment below on anything regarding the topic of policy implementation or specific things you found interesting about the readings or…
Discussion Questions - Blame
Is blame avoidance behavior by elected officeholders an inevitable feature of American politics? Weaver discusses some of the effects…