WASHINGTON – Hippies used to say if you remember Woodstock, you weren't really there. Republicans say presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton can forget about getting $1 million in taxpayer funds for a Woodstock museum.
Clinton and Charles Schumer, Democratic senators from New York, want to earmark the federal money for a museum that would commemorate the 1969 music festival in their state.
"Woodstock Museum is a shining example of what's wrong with Washington on pork-barrel, out-of-control spending," said John McCain, Arizona senator and Republican presidential hopeful. An example, he said, of "the earmark pork-barrel spending which has made the American people disenchanted and angry."
Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., were trying Thursday to strip the Woodstock earmark from a massive health and education spending bill on the Senate floor. Democrats moved to kill their effort, but Republicans won a key 52-42 vote — seeping with presidential politics — signaling the Clinton-Schumer earmark would soon be gone.
Five Democrats voted against the Woodstock provision. So did old-school GOP members of the Appropriations Committee who had on prior occasions voted against conservative criticism of senators' earmarks.
"With all the pressing needs facing our country today, from entitlement reform to children's health care to the war in Iraq, the idea that the federal government should fund a museum that celebrates a 38-year-old concert is simply absurd," Kyl said.
It's the type of parochial project that's easy to make fun of. Conservatives call it a hippie museum and a taxpayer-funded LSD flashback.
The Woodstock museum — officially called the Museum at Bethel Woods — is due to open next year. Bethel is the town in upstate New York where organizers eventually put on the three-day Woodstock Music and Art Fair, featuring Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Band and others.
The open-air gathering attracted hundreds of thousands, became a defining moment of 1960s youth rebellion and shut down the New York State Thruway.
When Schumer and Clinton trumpeted the $1 million earmark for the museum back in June, she said in a statement that it would "continue to promote education, the arts, culture and tourism in the region."
It is part of a larger development called the Bethel Woods Center for the Performing Arts with a 16,800-seat amphitheater. The development was opened in 2006.
Billionaire Alan Gerry is the force behind the project. He and his family have contributed almost $30,000 to Clinton and a committee headed by Schumer dedicated to electing Democrats to the Senate.
Gerry is a longtime major political donor. The contributions — $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $9,200 to Clinton's presidential campaign — came just days after the earmark was inserted into the legislation.
Clinton did not speak during Thursday's debate on the project, but Schumer strongly defended the Bethel project as a boon for an economically struggling county.
While Clinton and Schumer jointly took credit for the earmark, Schumer was the driving force behind it.
Coburn himself said the project sounded like a good idea, but he also said U.S. taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill. The $1 million in federal funds would be a small fraction of the overall $100 million cost.
The underlying health and education bill is a target-rich measure for earmark critics since it contains more than 1,000 earmarks totaling $562 million, according to Taxpayers for Common sense, a budget watchdog group.
Republicans tried but failed Thursday to block $2 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at The City College of New York — spending that GOP critics dubbed Rangel's "monument to me."
Liberal activists, meanwhile, protested a $100,000 earmark by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative group that was to use the funds "to develop a plan to promote better science education."