How Rick Perry Aggressively Pursued Federal Aid He Now Decries

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In his presidential-campaign kickoff on Aug. 13, Texas Governor Rick Perry burnished his conservative credentials by attacking the idea of deficit stimulus spending. “Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed stimulus plans and other misguided economic theories have given us record debt and left us with far too many unemployed,” he said.

But ’twas not always so for Perry. Back in 2003, lobbyists under Perry’s direction went to Capitol Hill to lobby the Republican Congress for more than a billion dollars in federal deficit spending on “stimulus.” And they won. A 2005 report (PDF) by the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations boasted of “$1.2 billion in temporary state fiscal relief to Texas” through Medicaid that Perry’s lobbying operation had secured.

And that was just the beginning. The same report details millions more that flowed from the U.S. Treasury to Texas as a result of the official state lobbying campaign, which was overseen by Perry, a Republican lieutenant governor and the speaker of the state house between 2003 and 2005. In several cases, the Texas lobbying campaign won funds for programs that Perry now says he opposes as fiscally irresponsible intrusions on state responsibilities.

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For the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, for instance, Texas lobbyists successfully pushed to include an additional $47.5 million a year for four years, to help reimburse the cost of health care for undocumented immigrants. In 2005, the lobbyists fought to restore $200 million in funding for No Child Left Behind that had been cut by the Senate. About $14.5 million of that money was directed to Texas for “innovation programs.” The Texas lobbying operation also supported several earmarks, including direct funds for maintenance dredging in the Matagorda shipping channel and money to study the feasibility of a desalination project in Freeport.

Mark Miner, a spokesman for the Perry campaign, said Perry’s record of fiscal responsibility is clear from his state record. “Americans send billions of dollars to Washington, D.C., every year and continue to be frustrated by a federal government that is irresponsible with taxpayer dollars,” he said. “The governor has signed six balanced budgets, in a large and diverse state. You have to prioritize and make tough decisions, and that is not what we are seeing from the Obama Administration.”

Miner added that much of the federal money that flowed to Texas under Perry served a federal purpose. “Many of the issues Texas and other states have to deal with, like border security, are the result of a federal government that has failed in its responsibility,” he said.

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Among other efforts, the Perry lobbying operation was involved in one of the most storied legislative maneuvers of the past decade. In 2005, at the tail end of the conference-committee process on a massive federal $14 billion energy bill, members of Congress from Texas inserted a $1.5 billion program under the subtitle “Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources.” Much of the money in this provision was directed to an unnamed consortium, which seemed to describe a private-sector partnership operating in the offices of the Texas Energy Center, a Perry-funded project in Sugar Land, Texas.

At the time, Democrats were outraged by the last-minute addition to the bill. “The subtitle appears to steer the administration of 75% of the $1.5 billion fund to a private consortium located in the district of Majority Leader Tom DeLay,” wrote California Representative Henry Waxman, after the law passed. That consortium later won the account.

Perry had played a key role in setting up the Texas Energy Center in 2003 by giving a $3.6 million grant from an “enterprise fund” he controlled. “This commitment of enterprise-fund money not only will lead to the creation of new, high-paying jobs in Texas but also will help expand Texas’ reputation as a leader in the development of new and cleaner energy technologies and resources,” Perry said at the time.

Shortly afterward, the Texas Energy Center hired Drew Maloney, a former DeLay chief of staff, to lobby the U.S. Congress on its behalf. Maloney was also working as a lobbyist for the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations, which Perry oversaw. The office reported in 2005 that it had lobbied Congress for appropriations on behalf of the Texas Energy Center.

Today Perry speaks of Washington as an alien land, inhabited by irresponsible politicians. In his most recent book, Fed Up!, Perry criticizes President George W. Bush for giving free rein to “spendthrift congressional Republicans.” “Ultimately, the record is fairly unforgiving for Republicans — particularly in Congress — who have been in power in Washington over the last decade or so,” Perry wrote in 2010. “They haven’t just spent our money wildly — they have blatantly ignored our core founding principles.”

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This is the same message that Perry has brought to the campaign trail since the announcement of his bid for the presidency. It is not the same message that lobbyists whom Perry oversaw brought to Congress just a few years ago.