February 05, 2004
It's the deficit, stupid!

This story about a possible cutback in funds for the Port of Houston, contains the bones of what I think should be the main strategy of each endangered Democratic Congressional incumbent here.

Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, said a major concern is a potential 13 percent cut in spending for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the Houston Ship Channel.

The corps already is operating without enough money, and this could delay a project to deepen the channel to accommodate heavier or larger ships.

"For the president to talk on one hand about the importance of homeland security and on the other leave gaping holes in our infrastructure is confusing at best," said Lampson, a member of the House Transportation Committee. "This budget leaves the corps hamstrung to keep our waterways open and safe."

However, a spokesman for the president's budget office said money for all ports has been combined into the Homeland Security Department's spending plan -- a move that could make the money more accessible.

"The process has been streamlined, and we've attempted to make a one-stop ... for state and local governments," spokesman Chad Kolton said.

Lampson is definitely on the right track, tying the budget deficit to homeland security. The message is simple: Bush and the Republicans have created this mess, and they're trying to fix it in part by skimping on important things like security for one of America's busiest ports. It's a basic variation of the Stenholm Message, in which Lampson can reasonably say that he'll work with the President when he's right - whoever the President may be - and disagree with him when he's wrong, as he clearly is regarding the Port's funding. This theme and the examples of where disagreeing with the President is clearly the Right Thing To Do should be echoed ad nauseum between now and November.

There's no reason why this message can't be adapted to other Congressional races where the President is generally popular as well. As Kos points out, an emerging strategy among the GOP Congressional leadership is to threaten certain programs unless a Republican represents the district that gets served by them. Which leads to the obvious question: If the threatened programs are objectively good, why should a given representative's party affiliation matter? Would the GOP cut off all funding to the Port of Houston if Nick Lampson gets reelected, for example? Yeah, yeah, I know - victors and spoils. Such an appealing campaign message that would make, no?

FYI, the Kentucky special election to replace Ernie Fletcher in Congress is February 17. If you want to help a Democrat win that seat, make a donation to Ben Chandler.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 05, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

It's impossible to tell from the Comical article (shocker), but my impression is that the Army Corps of Engineers is charged with maintenance of ports, not security (which would presumably be Coast Guard, right?). The only specific port item listed by the Comical that would be affected by the supposed cut is a deepening project, which has nothing to do with security.

Someone might want to research this a bit further before suggesting this as an example of the Bush Administration harming security at the nation's ports by cutting the budget. Unless, of course, someone just wants to make assertions based on a typically fuzzy Comical article. I sure wouldn't want my political eggs in the Comical basket!

Posted by: kevin whited on February 5, 2004 12:44 PM

Fair enough, though port security is an issue that's been in the news recently and likely will be again before November.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 5, 2004 1:56 PM