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About that “stimulus package” clinic

The White House and Washington state's two Democratic senators were very happy to announce this week that a small piece of the stimulus package was headed to Spokane for a new medical clinic.

Community Health Association of Spokane was awarded a $1.3 million grant  Monday from the Health and Human Services Department's portion of the Recovery Act. (Forgive me for referring to seven figures of money as small, but we're becoming so used to trillions that a million sounds picayune.)

Good for jobs, with unemployment moving up to 10 percent around here. Good for health, considering that those unemployed workers are also, mostly, uninsured. Good for the stimulus package.

Except that the clinic isn't going to be in Spokane...'s going to be in Lewiston, Idaho.

That's where CHAS proposed a clinic in 2007, when it first applied for a federal grant. Looking to spend stimulus money quickly on worthy projects, HHS resurrected that grant, which had a good score but didn't make the cut before the program used up all its money in 2008, and said "Go for it."

CHAS is understandably excited about getting a new clinic. People in Lewiston, probably will be too, as will people just across the border in Clarkston, Wash.

But there's some irony here. The irony isn't based on any suggestion that Lewiston is somehow less deserving than Spokane. Or that Idahoans are less deserving than Washingtonians, because the clinic will serve residents of both states.

The irony is that Washington's congressional delegation largely voted for the stimulus package. True, Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings didn't, but at least residents east of the Cascades had senators who voted Yea when the bill came around.

On the Idaho side of the border, the two senators and the two House members -- three Republicans and one Democrat -- voted no. And were pretty emphatic about how bad the bill is.

That doesn't mean that Idaho residents should be left out of the recovery programs, because this is national problem and, in a republic, the decision of the majority does carry over onto the populace as a whole. Just as the debt will.

If the White House actually knew the clinic was going into Idaho, and said "Stimulus vote be damned, get some more docs in Lewiston", that would be magnanimous in a truly apolitical sort of way. If they knew enough to say "Well, Clarkston's just across the border and everyone wins," that'd be nice.

Chances are they didn't. Chances are they saw "Spokane" in the name of the health organization, and the return address on the grant app, and figured "here's one for Washington." Why do we think that?

Well, for one thing, they didn't tell Rep. Walt Minnick, whose district includes Lewiston, that this was coming. True, Minnick voted no; but the bill passed, and there's no reason to hold a grudge against a guy who will likely have a tough re-election fight in a Republican district.

The other is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- which is spending much of its time watching where the stimulus money is going, and suggesting that the news media ask any no-voting Republican about rejecting money coming into his or her district -- sent out a suggestion to hector McMorris Rodgers about the grant coming to her district.

It seems unlikely that anyone, Democrat or Republican, Idaho or Washington delegation, is going to say anything terrible about a new clinic. At most, they might say it isn't vital infrastructure (although you might not want to say that too loud to some parent who brings a sick kid into the clinic), or that it could've waited for the regular appropriations bills and gone through the regular hearings process.

But the politics of the stimulus package are going to get really interesting.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.