The mouth that roared (and lied)


040707obey.jpgIn putting together the House’s war spending bill, Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (left) gave false information to fellow Democrats, yelled at anti-war protesters and slammed The Washington Post.

“I didn’t come here to win any charm-school award,” the cantankerous Wisconsin Democrat said in an interview.

His social skills aside, analysts and lawmakers credit Obey for pushing the $124 billion spending bill through the House last month on a 218-212 vote. House and Senate negotiators will craft a final bill, which faces a near-certain White House veto.

“David Obey is a very, very bright guy with a very, very short fuse,” said Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker. “Given the factionalism within the Democratic caucus in the House, I think he handled it very skillfully. He has a reputation for not suffering fools lightly, and he had to suffer a number of fools.”

Obey, 68, made it clear that the legislation bearing his name was not his ideal bill.

“I told the Democratic caucus what I’m bringing to the floor isn’t my choice, it isn’t my first preference,” Obey said over lunch at the National Democratic Club on Capitol Hill. “If I had my way, we’d be out yesterday.

“I used to think when I become chairman, boy, I would be able do all kinds of wonderful things that I wanted to do. And after I became chairman, I learned that while you can have your own preferences, and your own agenda, that you spend 90 percent of your time simply trying to find the balance point in the House. So you’re constantly balancing other peoples’ preferences and agendas.”

Although Obey’s legislation calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraq before September 2008, it also funds the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, angering anti-war activists who want an immediate cutoff of funds for Iraq.

That led to a lively exchange between Obey and a peace protester outside his office, caught on video and widely circulated on the Web.

“We’re trying to use the supplemental to end the war,” Obey told the activist, Tina Richards, after she asked whether he planned to vote against it. “But you can’t end the war if you vote against the supplemental. It’s time these idiot liberals understand that.” He later apologized.

Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, called Obey “the ultimate legislator. He’s very, very good at doing what he does. He had a near impossible task of gluing the language together that finally passed the House.”

In crafting the bill, Obey was so angered about leaks to the media that he deliberately gave some Democratic members false information to find out who the culprits were. He said he doesn’t regret doing so.

“When people are getting in the way of finding a solution — damaging all you’re trying to do — you use all the techniques you can,” Obey said.

He also won’t offer any apologies for the $20 billion in the legislation for domestic spending, which was widely criticized by the Bush administration, newspaper editorials and budget hawks. On the day of the vote, he complained about a Washington Post editorial that skewered Democrats for including “wasteful subsidies to agriculture or pork barrel projects aimed at individual members of Congress.”

Taking to the House floor, Obey said the bill ends “the permanent long-term, dead-end baby-sitting service.”

“And if the Washington Post is offended about the way we do it, that’s just too bad,” he added angrily. “But we’re in the arena, they’re not, and this is the best we can do given the tools we have, and I make absolutely no apology for it.”

The bill included millions of dollars for things like peanut storage and payments to spinach farmers, as well as the renewal of a milk subsidy program that has benefited Wisconsin more than any other state.

“There are lots of people in this town who always look down their nose at something labeled agriculture,” Obey griped in the interview. “Funny, funny, ha-ha.” Referring to the milk program, he said, “Pardon me if I insist that farmers that I represent get equity.”

He also said that many items in the bill were leftovers from the last session that Republicans didn’t get finished when they controlled Congress.

Brian J. Kennedy, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, responded, “It sounds like the guy who holds both the checkbook and the pen is trying to pass the buck on an indefensible bill.”

Obey, who plays harmonica in a band called The Capitol Offenses, is one of the longest-serving members in the House. He won a special election in 1969 to replace Republican Melvin Laird, who had resigned to become secretary of defense for President Nixon. Laird and Obey have remained good friends over the years.

“Any damn fool can put something up that defines how he feels,” Obey said. “But you’ve got to … find a combination that will work and also make sense on the ground, because there are lots of things that may make sense politically but make no damn sense in terms of what’s happening in Iraq.”

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


  1. AustinRanter

    Obey is one among many self-made Demi-gods. His behavior falls inline with the usual run-of-the-mill Demi-gods.

    In other words, what he did..”What else is new?”

    This is typical daily BS that is generated in Washington.

    I don’t see Republican or Democrat..or even Independent labels anymore…they’re all in one giant soup made of self-will-run-riot, self-exempted from accountability self proclaimed Demi-gods.

  2. Peter Ehrhorn

    I feel sorry for someone who feels that democrats and republicans are the same. They are not. Republicans are nothing but hypocrites. It took a democrat to balance the budget something the republicans just talked about for decades. Republicans lie. Under Bush’s leadership I would like anyone to show me where GW has been totally truthful.

    Democrats may be far from perfect but at least they don’t go around saying they must control your lives. Remember Terri? That would never have happened under democratic control. Just remember what the republicans have given you. Nothing but debt, death, and weakening of national security.

  3. The first lie was a lie by Adam and Eve against God. Lying is the cheapest of cons and the most deadly because adept liars often rise to the top. It is time to drag these people into court to defend themselves and to get their frauds on record.

  4. Bonnie Aller

    First off I’m from Wisconsin and I thought I was a Progressive until I realized Bob LaFollette who helped agriculture apparently was a traitor. Wisconsin does not get the biggest benefit out of milk subsidies. We have small family farms and get didddly squat. Republican Californians get the benefit of the milk subsidaries, but the dairy farmers in almost every other State are losing money. The ethanol in the 1920s (all the first cars ran on ethanol) was from peanut oil. You could again use peanut oil for ethanol or at least for bio-diesel. What might seem like waste might actually have the good of the Country at heart.

    I think Obey is a lot better than the loser I’m stuck with in the House, i.e., Sensenbrenner. Obey for years has been fighting for the Poor, the Farmers (which very often is the poor),veterans, and the underrepresented. Before you open your mouth look at a voting record that has been fighting for us day in day out for years.

    I go to Stands for Peace and I protest for the Environment and against the War, but we have to be realistic. We need less Republicans and more Dems and Independents and Greens. Right now we don’t have enough votes.

  5. Jim H.

    The AP story doesn’t mention one, just the headline. Unless you want to call all Democrats “liars,” where’s the untruth?

    If you put a bill up there that cut off all funding immediately and/or ordered the immediate withdrawal that the antiwar people were demanding, you’d get maybe a dozen votes.

    When the issues of withdrawal or redeployment were first brought up by Murtha and Feingold, the party ran from them like hell, until they realized that, whoa, the majority agreed. Each time it comes up for a vote, it gets fewer votes. In a year, it will get McCain’s vote and Lieberman’s. And five years from now, every Republican who’s still in office will be telling us that, “I was against it from the start!”

    As for the “pork” charge, it was the last session of the Republican congress who were supposed to pass the Katrina money and most of the other measures that were in the bill. They skipped town, and now they charge the Democrats with pork because they keep faith with the victims of the hurricane. Revolting.

    Ever notice that the accusation of “pork” starts with billions, but the stories are always in the millions? I’ll give you an example of “pork.” Last fall, the spinach producers of California lost their whole crop because of unexplained deaths from e. coli. Well, scientists have tracked that down to one farm, using DNA evidence. But the whole industry lost its shirt. $20 million just allows most to stay in business until next year. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.