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McCaskill lashes out at national and local Republicans, calling them 'hypocrites'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 16, 2010 - Even for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and known for her take-no-prisoners style, today's display of her disgust at state and national Republicans was a bit above her norm.

At a news conference today to mark the creation of a new drug court for military veterans, the senator veered off course when reporters began posing questions on various other matters. Most notably: her thoughts about Thursday's passage of a financial regulation bill and the possible fate of congressional Democrats this fall.

McCaskill launched into a passionate parade of criticisms of congressional Republicans, then stopped herself to apologize to her audience. After the news conference was over and she stepped to the side of the room to talk to reporters, the senator then resumed her complaints -- and took on state Republicans as well.

Among her targets:

A) Republican Senate colleagues, who McCaskill said are out of line when they oppose more federal unemployment benefits, citing concern about the federal deficit, but then ignore the deficit when they call for continuing the Bush tax cuts benefiting the wealthy.

McCaskill said she was particularly outraged by talk that people are out of work by choice, adding that she has met many people "who just want a job."

B) Republicans controlling the state Legislature, who she said are "hypocrites'' for decrying federal stimulus aid when they have balanced the last two state budgets with "a boatload of (federal) money."

"They actuallty want people to believe that they balanced the (state) budget themselves,'' McCaskill said hotly. She added that only Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has talked to her about the need for more federal help for the states. Missouri's next fiscal budget is predicted to require significant additional trims.

The senator contended that she wasn't taking a stand in favor of additional federal help until she heard from Republican legislative leaders. "They apparently don't want the money,'' she said.

C) All Missouri Republicans in Jefferson City, who she said need "to look in the mirror'' if they plan on using the Aug. 3 vote on Proposition C -- which seeks to exempt Missouri from the federal health-care law -- as justification for a national move to repeal the law.

McCaskill cited the Legislature's decisions to overturn statewide votes in favor of campaign-donation limits and against allowing people to carry concealed weapons. Lawmakers voted in 2003 in favor of concealed-carry and tossed out donation limits in 2007.

While emphasizing that "I'm not saying it was a mistake'' to allow concealed weapons, McCaskill said her point was that the GOP-led Legislature has a habit of saying "we know better'' when the voters do something they dislike, but then embrace the statewide vote when it goes their way.

She said she was particularly upset about the lack of donation limits for Missouri contests. "These guys are collecting six-figure checks from people,'' said the senator, who noted that she is a close friend of state Auditor Susan Montee, a Democrat seeking re-election this fall.  (The two are going together to a Cardinals game this evening.)

D) U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield and the best-known Republican running for the U.S. Senate, who the senator said appears to be in the improbable position of being "half-pregnant on earmarks'' because he has made statements for and against the congressional practice of earmarking congressional money for particular projects.

McCaskill, who opposes earmarks, said that Blunt also needs to be held accountable because "he was there (in the House) when they decided to remove spending freezes and 'pay-go' (which requires new spending be paid for with new cuts)."

"When you look up 'Washington Insider' in the dictionary, Congressman Blunt's picture is there,'' she said.

As expected, McCaskil's praise was reserved for the likely Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate -- Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan -- who the senator said has been aggressively going after financial wrongdoers in her job as Missouri's overseer of many investment practices.

All that said, McCaskill acknowledged that national and state Democrats face challenges in this fall's congressional and state elections. The Blunt-Carnahan contest will be "a nail-biter race,'' she said.

She attributed the Democrats' precarious status to the grim national economic climate. "When people are unhappy and stressed in their own lives, it's hard to be happy with who's in charge,'' McCaskill said. It's also harder for Democrats to explain their actions, she went on, than for Republicans who "just say 'no.' "

McCaskill also added that Congress and Washington leaders, in both parties, are not without fault. "We deserve criticism, especially those who blew the budget surplus" built up under former President Bill Clinton.

But the senator left no doubt Friday which side she thought deserved it more.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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