The flood-ravaged communities of the Midwest became a new battleground in the US presidential election as Democrat Barack Obama criticised Republican John McCain for opposing federal spending on flood prevention programmes, attacks Mr McCain’s campaign called typical partisan politics.
Both candidates have visited the flood zones in the past two weeks, since heavy rains sent rivers surging over their banks, forcing thousands of people from their homes and inundating towns and cities along rivers in six US states; at least 24 people have been killed and 148 injured since June 6.
Mr Obama, an Illinois senator, cancelled a visit to eastern Iowa last week at the request of state officials and instead went to fill sandbags in Quincy, Illinois.
Mr McCain, an Arizona senator, toured flood damage in Iowa on Thursday.
During a speech yesterday at the US Conference of Mayors in Miami, Mr Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, criticised Mr McCain for opposing a measure to spend 23 billion US dollars on water projects.
It passed Congress overwhelmingly and was vetoed by President George Bush because he said it spent too much on politicians’ pet projects. Congress voted to override the veto, for the first time in Mr Bush’s presidency.
Talking about the separate trips by the candidates to flood-affected areas, Mr Obama said both he and Mr McCain felt “enormous sympathy for the victims of the recent flooding.
“I’m sure they appreciated the sentiment, but they probably would have appreciated it even more if Sen. McCain hadn’t opposed legislation to fund levees and flood control programs, which he considers pork,” Mr Obama said, a reference to Mr McCain’s condemnation of wasteful so-called “pork barrel” spending on politicians’ home districts.
The bill funded hundreds of projects – such as dams, sewage plants and beach restoration – that are important to local communities and their representatives. It also included money for the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast and for Florida Everglades restoration efforts.
Mr McCain’s campaign said Mr Obama opposed an amendment that McCain co-sponsored to prioritise flood control spending.
The bipartisan amendment, which failed overwhelmingly on a 69-22 vote, would have made sure “lifesaving levees like those that so tragically failed in Iowa and Missouri are given the highest priority and fixed first,” said Mr McCain’s spokesman Tucker Bounds.
“Barack Obama’s willingness to continue the status quo pork-barrel politics in Washington, and then engage in political attacks that entirely disregard the facts, once again fundamentally shows that he’s nothing more than a typical politician,” said Mr Bounds.
“It is beyond the pale that Barack Obama would attack John McCain for actually trying to fix the problem and change the way Washington works.”