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Tribune: Rehberg asked administration to help stimulus projects

By Ledyard King of the Great Falls Tribune 

WASHINGTON— Rep. Denny Rehberg minced few words last year criticizing President Barack Obama’s nearly $800 billion eco­nomic stimulus plan, saying it was “filled with wasteful spend­ing that will do nothing to jump­start the economy but will perma­nently bloat the federal govern­ment and make future tax increases inevitable."

Over the next few months, the Montana Republican wrote three let­ters to federal agencies, asking them to approve millions in stimulus aid for projects in his home state — a rural electric cooperative in Kallispell and Internet providers in Fairfield and Huntley.

A new report from the Center for Public Integrity, the Wash­ington watchdog group that unearthed the letters, says Rehberg and other members of Congress are hypocrites for vot­ing against the stimulus and later seeking money from the pro­gram.

“That’s like branding a calf you don’t own,” said Dennis McDonald, a Democrat challeng­ing Rehberg in the Nov. 2 elec­tion.

Rehberg said there was noth­ing hypocritical in his actions.

“I promised from the start that I’d fight to make this lead bal­loon fly in Montana and I make no apologies for doing that,” he said.

He said his previous criticisms of the stimulus still hold true.

“We needed to stimulate the economy and create jobs, but this bill did neither,” he said. “Instead, it used the failing econ­omy as an excuse to expand the reach of the federal government. Only a tiny fraction of the spend­ing went to projects that would help the economy, and now we’re all on the hook to pay for the rest of this failed policy.”

The Center for Public Integrity posted three form letters with Rehberg’s signature asking the administration to consider the merits of the Montana projects. The letters were sent on behalf of: ã Flathead Electric Coopera­tive in Kalispell asking the Department of Energy to consid­er approving the cooperative’s application for money to drill exploratory geothermal wells.
 
Ken Sugden, general manager of the cooperative, said the agency never approved the $491,000. But Rehberg, a mem­ber of the House Appropriations Committee, obtained the money through a congressional spend­ing bill.
Sugden said the congressman, along with Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, was one of a number of people the utility approached to endorse the request for stimulus funds.

Baucus and Tester both voted for the stimulus program.
 
ã 3 Rivers Communications in Fairfield, which wanted to expand its Internet broadband capabilities.
 
Baucus and Tester also wrote letters in support. The company could not be reached for com­ment.
 
ã Viking Broadband Inc. of Huntley, which wanted about $4.9 million to expand its Inter­net service.
 
Rehberg and Baucus also wrote letters in support, but Dan Vaala, president of Viking, said the company never got any money. Viking serves several hundred customers east of Billings.
 
Like Rehberg, Vaala said he doesn’t like the stimulus pro­gram. But he said once Congress approved the legislation, it only made sense for Montana’s law­makers to pursue the taxpayer funds. Otherwise, he said, the money would have gone to com­petitors in other states at Mon­tana’s expense. “We had to assert ourselves that this is our territory,” Vaala said. “If any money’s going to be given out, we have to be there with our hand out just like every­body else is.”

Published 10/19/2010

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