It’s probably premature for Democrat Gabrielle Giffords to list conservative Sen. Jon Kyl among her supporters.
But Kyl has come to Giffords’ aid after criticism by Republican foe Tim Bee – even going so far as dispatching one of his top aides to, in Kyl’s words, “straighten out” Bee’s campaign manager.
So who’s the maverick now?
It’s an unusual move for Kyl, a reliable conservative and, as whip, the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate.
But after blistering criticism of the financial bailout/rescue/ stabilization bill from thousands of his constituents as well as from Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives – including Bee – Kyl had enough.
And Giffords was among those who ended up benefiting.
Remember back two weeks when both houses of Congress were debating the hurried $700 billion bailout bill? The House rejected the bill, sending the stock market into a tailspin from which it has yet to recover.
Four days later, the House voted again and passed the bill.
What was the difference? Let Bee address that in a statement sent out by his campaign Oct. 3, the day the House voted yes:
“They added pork for wooden arrows, racetracks, rum, bicyclists and Hollywood studios to name a few. Our Congresswoman Giffords wouldn’t stand by and say ‘no!’ to the pork. She added her own.”
The Giffords’ “pork” cited by the Bee campaign was an extension of tax credits for those who install solar energy equipment. The Bee statement said “a real leader would have passed (the solar credit) months ago as part of an all-of-the-above energy package.”
Limbaugh leapt into the fray, seizing on the tax credits for makers of Puerto Rican rum and toy wooden arrows as proof the House had been bought off.
Meanwhile, Kyl was hearing the same things from Arizonans. “I had over 5,000 calls, letters and e-mails the week before,” Kyl said in an interview this week.
All of this prompted Kyl to send out a 2 1/2-page e-mail to those who contacted his office. In it, he wrote: “The tax bill had nothing to do with pork-barrel spending. In fact it included many provisions that would reduce taxes.”
The tax cuts and credits – including the solar credit – had been approved in the Senate earlier, Kyl said. They were waiting for approval in the House, and the financial bailout was the vehicle used for that.
Although criticism by Bee and Limbaugh of tax breaks for makers of rum and wooden arrows made for a good soundbite, there is more to it, Kyl wrote.
A 39-cent tax is imposed on each hunting arrow to help pay for hunting programs. The tax break exempted toy arrows.
Current tax law also imposes an excise tax on imported rum, probably to protect domestic rum makers. But that tax is refunded to rum makers in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico because they are U.S. territories. That has been the case since 1986, and the bailout bill provision continued that.
“There are some conservative House members who, I guess, couldn’t argue the bill on the merits,” Kyl said in an interview.
He said the House Republican Study Committee urged Republicans running for the House to attack Democratic incumbents by claiming the bailout was laden with pork. “I understand he was one of them,” Kyl said of Bee.
Bee’s statement said, “This bill . . . should not be about how much more pork-barrel spending you can get away with.”
“They clearly should have known better,” Kyl said of House members and candidates who sent out such statements. “Either they were grossly negligent or misinformed.”
Kyl said he heard about Bee’s statement and moved to knock it down. “His campaign guy had been quoted as calling it ‘pork,’ ” he said of Bee campaign manager Tom Dunn. Kyl said he called one of his staff members in Tucson “and said we need to straighten him (Dunn) out.”
Dunn said this week that the Bee campaign stands by the statement. “It’s special interests,” he said of the add-ons to the bailout bill.
Kyl begs to differ: “It’s not pork, and it’s not new.”
Mark Kimble appears Fridays on “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. Call him at 573-4662 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.