In late September 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s office notified Rep. Paul Ryan’s office with some good news. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs had awarded a grant to a Wisconsin veteran’s home to help renovate its water distribution system. Walker’s office just needed Ryan’s people to sign off on the press release. But what started out as a routine matter quickly turned into a minor panic among aides to the two Republicans.
Wendy Riemann, Walker’s director of federal relations, sent an email to Ryan’s communications director, Kevin Seifert, asking for a quote from the congressman.
“Not sure if you’re doing your own release, etc.,” Riemann emailed on Sept. 26. “Let me know — we’ll wait to hear from you either way before putting it out.”
Seifert replied with a simple message: Stop the presses. He had one concern. Could the grant be tied to federal stimulus funds?
“Not to create more work for you all but — do you have any idea where the money for this grant came from? Was it from the stimulus/the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?” Seifert wrote. “Our concern is that if it’s stimulus funds, we won’t want to highlight (and would think you guys wouldn’t either).”
Seifert did not want Ryan appearing to support President Barack Obama. “The Administration is encouraging lots of agencies to spend un-spent stimulus funds and we generally won’t do press on things we actively oppose,” the congressman’s communications director concluded.
OK, so here’s how it works: if the money for an entirely necessary improvement to a veterans’ home was paid for with some federal grant, it’s the best thing ever. If it was paid for with stimulus money, it’s communism! The real world difference between the two situations? None. Federal funds are federal funds — it’s not like stimulus dollars were dipped in poison before they went out.
People who are engaging in honest criticism don’t have to do coordinated research to get their stories straight. They were more than happy to brag about accepting federal money, so long as the magic word “stimulus” was not attached to it.