It's not news that presidents from both political parties have used well-timed decisions on federal grant applications to help persuade recalcitrant senators and representatives to vote for bills they would otherwise oppose. The usual tactic involved giving advance word of a grant decision to a favored senator or representative, who then took credit for "bringing home the bacon." The participants were careful not to be too blatant about what had happened behind the scenes -- namely, that federal tax dollars had been awarded in return for promised votes in Congress.
But now along comes the Heritage Foundation's Lachlan Markay who has demonstrated how President Obama has taken the practice of buying votes with federal grants to a whole new level. And we're not just talking about the infamous "Cornhusker Bargain" and "Louisiana Purchase" deals that won over Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of the Bayou state for Obamacare. Using data from grants.gov, Markay found that the number of grants awarded soared between May 2009 and March 2010 in the weeks immediately prior to congressional votes on three key Obama proposals -- Obamacare, cap-and-trade, and Dodd-Frank financial reform.
Not only did the number of grants suddenly go up, there was strong evidence of a pattern of federal funds going to recipients in the districts of swing votes in Congress. "At least 32 vulnerable House Democrats received significant federal grant money in the periods leading up to or directly after their votes on at least one of these three pieces of legislation, raising concerns that those grants may have been used either to encourage or reward votes in favor of the administration's position," Markay said. He also noted that a month after the March 2010 Obamacare vote, the Congressional Research Service reported that "both the number and value of earmarks requested solely by the president increased since FY 2008." According to the CRS report, there was a 54 percent increase in presidential earmarks.
Obama is not the first president to use such tactics to votes for signature legislative proposals. President George W. Bush's political aides famously used the promise of federal grants to gain decisive votes for his Medicare Prescription Drug benefit during an extraordinary three-hour period in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 2003. When the proposal appeared to be losing near the end of the usual 15-minute roll call, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert took the unusual step of holding the vote open for hours while White House and Hill proponents of the program scurried about in search of representatives willing to change their nay votes from nays to ayes, for a price. The bill eventually passed 220-215 after the longest roll call vote in congressional history.
But the data presented by Markay suggests that Bush was a piker by comparison to Obama when it comes to using federal tax dollars to secure votes in Congress. The Washington Examiner is, of course, shocked, just shocked, to learn that a president born and raised to political maturity in Chicago would do such a thing.