U.S. Sen. John McCain tried to give a boost to Republican Dino Rossi's chances of joining him in the Senate by saying Democrat Patty Murray "engages in a corrput practice."
McCain stepped an inch back from calling Murray, a three-term incumbent with whom he's had significant disagreements, corrupt.
"I think (use of earmarks) is a corrupt practice. She engages in that corrupt practice. Whether she is corrupt or not, I'll let others decide," McCain said in a telephonic press conference arranged by the Rossi campaign Monday morning.
The Murray campaign was quick to label McCain as "anti-Boeing", noting the long-running fight over awarding the bids for a new Air Force tanker in which the Arizona senator pushed to open the bidding, which resulted in European-based Airbus briefly getting the nod for the plane to replace the KC-135 tanker. That was later pulled back because of contract irregularities, and Boeing and Airbus are again vying for the contract. Murray says the Pentagon shouldn't award the contract without taking into account the subsidies Airbus gets, and is criticizing McCain for protesting that stance and Rossi for campaigning with someone who "worked against Washington state's interests at every turn."
Monday's teleconference was designed to highlight earmarks, federal spending directed by members of Congress which are a key element of Rossi's campaign against Murray, on a day when First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, are in Bellevue campaigning for Murray. It was supposed to have two GOP heavy hitters, McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, but Coburn didn't get connected to the call and McCain was cut off before the last question could be asked.
Rossi wasn't on the call, although his staff quickly arranged another teleconference for him to reiterate his opposition to earmarks, although he declined to say whether he was in the state.
McCain blasted earmarks as "the gateway to corruption" and "a disgraceful process." He said Congress should do away with them permanently. This is slightly different from Rossi's position that he will not seek earmarks until the federal budget is balanced, and at that point might consider them along with changes in the budgeting process.
"I don't know why that should be a criteria," McCain said. "I respectfully disagree with my friend Dino on that."
In his later press conference, Rossi indicated that he and McCain have further disagreements on earmarks as well. McCain said such locally directed spending should only come from the Administration or the authorizing committees in Congress. Members of the Appropriations Committees shouldn't be adding things into their bills, he said. States and districts aren't really helped by earmarks, he added: "It's like welfare."
Rossi said that while he'd be happy with eliminating earmarks altogether, he thinks the executive branch has too much power in deciding where the money goes right now.
That seems to put him somewhere between McCain and Murray, who has said that it's better for members of Congress to direct money to worthy projects supported by people in their states than leave the decisions up to unelected "bureaucrats."