A Wisconsin voter from House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey‘s district says he was “ranted at” and “bullied” when he asked the Democratic congressman’s aide about a Washington Times report. The report said national parks got more than $2 billion in the stimulus bill, and Mr. Obey’s son is the chief lobbyist for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“He just kept ranting that it is a bunch of lies,” said Gerald Nielsen, 45, a utility worker in Cadott, Wis. “He wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise. … He was trying to bully me.”
Mr. Obey, who has represented Wisconsin’s 7th District for nearly 40 years and has long been the Democrats’ top man on the Appropriations Committee, is known for his gruff temperament.
But the abrasive disposition also is shared by some of his aides, Mr. Nielsen said after his conversation with Obey staffer Paul Carver.
“He was very upset, not to the point of yelling, but his voice definitely got louder and louder,” said Mr. Nielsen, a self-described libertarian who has not voted for Mr. Obey in years but says he does vote for Democrats, including Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold.
Mr. Carver and Mr. Obey’s press secretary did not immediately return a call from The Times seeking comment.
The Times’ story reported that Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called for an investigation into the money in the House stimulus bill for parks.
Mr. Obey’s son, Craig Obey, is the senior vice president for government affairs at NPCA, a major player in advocating for national-parks funding.
The money included in the stimulus bill by Mr. Obey’s committee — $2.25 billion — was about equal to the National Park Service’s total yearly budget and would be a staggering increase and almost three times the $802 million that the Senate Appropriations Committee set aside in its version of the $819 billion stimulus bill.
“Mr. Carver started to tell me that the story was lies and Mr. Obey was not going to respond to it,” Mr. Nielsen said. “I asked what was the lies, and he said [The Washington Times] was a right-wing newspaper and was not to be believed.”
Mr. Nielsen said he responded that under that line of reasoning anything the New York Times writes about Republicans should not be believed.
“He got very upset and told me that Mr. Obey will respond in a letter,” he said. “I then asked if his office always treats members of the 7th District in the manner that I was being treated. He would not respond, and one last time I asked what specifically was the lies, and again he went into a rant about a smear job.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Obey previously told The Times that the money for parks had nothing to do with Mr. Obey’s son and was included at the request of Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat, and that it was a popular request.
George Behan, a spokesman for Mr. Dicks, said the fund request did go through the Washington Democrat’s office and was intended to address what the Interior Department says is a $9 billion backlog of projects.
An NPCA spokesman said the group, including the younger Mr. Obey, does not lobby the senior Mr. Obey or his office, in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. And House aides and watchdog groups said it’s unlikely that Mr. Obey’s son lobbied his father directly on the bill, because a “firewall” provision for family members would prevent that.
But Republicans said the giant spending bill presented too many opportunities for mischief. Just before the vote Wednesday, Mr. Issa called for an investigation into the parks money.
“It really does beg the question of, ‘Is this an earmark? Is this a family connection? And should it have been disclosed at least in the spirit of what the Democrats said they wanted?’ The answer is it should have been disclosed,” Mr. Issa said.
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