Rachel Maddow throws a cheap shot at an honest vote 

It started with President Obama's much-praised appearance before House Republicans on Jan. 29. Discussing last year's $787 billion stimulus bill, Obama accused the GOP of hypocrisy, saying lawmakers are returning to their districts to take credit for federal spending they opposed in Washington. "A lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon-cuttings for the same projects that you voted against," Obama said.

Fast-forward to Sunday's "Meet the Press." Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock was taking part in a discussion that included the lefty MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. When Schock denounced pork-laden federal spending, Maddow hit him with Obama's talking point.

"Just this week you were at a community college touting a $350,000 green technology education program, talking about how great that was going to be for your district," she said to Schock. "You voted against the bill that created that grant. And so that's happening a lot with Republicans sort of taking credit for things that Democratic bills do, and then Republicans simultaneously touting their votes against them and trashing them.

"I mean, you seem like a very nice person, but that's a very hypocritical stance to take."

With that, a cheer went up from the Left. "Rachel Maddow Stuns Rep. Aaron Schock by Calling Out His Spending Hypocrisy," the Huffington Post wrote. "Rachel Maddow Eviscerates Aaron Schock," The Atlantic wrote.

But what point had Maddow really made? Perhaps that it's cheap and easy to criticize a lawmaker's vote, but harder to actually deal with the issues it presents.

The spending to which Maddow referred was a grant to Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill. It was to buy equipment for training students to install cutting-edge environmental technologies required in new home construction.

The original $350,000 request was placed in the Education Department's appropriations bill last year by none other than Schock. (He was working with another GOP congressman, John Shimkus, who represents the district next to Schock's.) It turns out Lincoln Land asked Schock for help in getting the money. Schock thought it was a worthy project and wrote a request for inclusion in the education bill.

But the bill never passed. As it often does, Congress put off approving major spending measures until the end of the year. As December approached, Democratic leaders wrapped the education appropriation into a giant $447 billion omnibus spending bill that also included funding for the Transportation, Housing, Justice, State, Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services departments, among others. The bill contained, in the words of a Washington Post report, "thousands of earmarks and double-digit increases for several cabinet agencies." It also included, deep inside its 2,500 pages, Schock's request for Lincoln Land Community College.

The bill was an affront to anyone concerned about controlling federal spending. It barely passed the House, 221 to 202. All 174 House Republicans, joined by 28 Democrats, voted against it.

"There was a lot of bad stuff in that bill," Schock says. "They lumped it all together and said, 'Take it or leave it, up or down.' "

So Schock voted no. But what about the request for Lincoln Land? How did Schock reconcile voting against the omnibus bill when it contained money for his own district?

"I have two responsibilities," Schock explains. "The first is to advocate for responsible federal spending, and the second is to advocate for my district's fair share of that federal spending. I don't see those responsibilities as mutually exclusive."

To Schock, the good in the omnibus was outweighed by the dramatic increase in overall spending. But once he voted no, how could he show up at Lincoln Land (where college officials thanked him for his help) to welcome the new federal dollars? For that matter, how could he welcome any money from the Education, Transportation, Housing, Justice, State, Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services departments, since he voted against their appropriations?

"Our constituents are going to be on the hook for the debt that [Democrats] are creating and all the spending they are incurring," Schock says. "They should get their fair share of the federal spending that they're going to have to pay back."

Rachel Maddow calls that hypocrisy. More thoughtful observers might call it a hard choice. Lawmakers have to make a lot of them, even when it brings on the talking-point attackers.

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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