LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor took aim at U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton on Tuesday for voting last week for a measure to abolish the Economic Development Administration, calling it a vote against Arkansas’ economy.
Cotton’s campaign said many, including President Barack Obama, have criticized the program as wasteful and said Pryor has expressed support for a budget plan that would eliminate the agency.
Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is challenging the re-election bid of Pryor, D-Ark. On Thursday, Cotton voted for a proposed amendment to an appropriations bill that would have abolished the EDA, which was created in 1965 with the mission of promoting job growth in economically depressed areas.
The amendment by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., failed in a 129-280 vote. On Tuesday, Pryor said in a statement, ""I’ll continue to support this program because it means good-paying jobs for Arkansas and makes our communities stronger.
"Congressman Cotton isn’t listening to Arkansans, and his political ambitions are no excuse for voting once again against working families and our state’s economy. Instead of listening to the Washington special interests, Congressman Cotton should join Arkansas’ Republicans and Democrats to support bringing critical investment into our state — that’s the responsible thing to do for hardworking Arkansas families," Pryor said.
Pryor said the EDA has helped create more than 1,000 jobs in Arkansas by providing funding for projects such as the acquisition of electric generators to support business expansion in North Little Rock; extension of a city sewer line in in Jonesboro; rehabilitation of the rail line between Lake Village and Lake Providence; expansion and facilities upgrades at Aviation Repair Technologies in Blytheville; and renovation of the Arkansas River Resource Center in Little Rock.
David Ray, spokesman for the Cotton Campaign, said Tuesday the EDA has provided funding for a number of projects that have been questioned, including $2 million for the Harry Reid Research and Technology Park at the University of Las Vegas and $2 million for a wine-tasting room and gift shop in Washington state.
He noted that even President Barack Obama has cited a need to address "waste" in the EDA, in a speech he made in 2008 while running for president.
Ray also said the Simpson-Bowles Commission included elimination of the EDA in a plan to save $200 billion and that Pryor has expressed support for the plan.
"The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission on Deficit Reduction identified EDA funding as duplicative, wasteful and inefficient. If Senator Pryor were serious about jobs he would have opposed Obamacare and would stand up to President Obama against new EPA regulations that will cost Arkansas thousands of jobs," Ray said, referring to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
Pryor spokesman Grant Herring said Tuesday, "The Cotton campaign is spinning themselves in knots on this. Pryor has consistently said he doesn’t support every aspect of Simpson-Bowles, only that it’s potentially a good starting point for a serious conversation on deficit reduction. Pryor never voted for Simpson-Bowles, and the Cotton folks are simply trying to deflect from Cotton’s vote."
Last month, several Arkansas officials, including Gov. Mike Beebe and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, praised the EDA for providing $1.5 million for food distributor Ben E. Keith’s planned expansion in North Little Rock, which is expected to create 74 jobs.
Smith told the Arkansas News Bureau last week, "I was certainly disappointed that one of our legislators would vote against that."
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor was glad Pompeo’s amendment failed but stopped short of criticising Cotton.
"We’ve been happy with our relationship with the EDA, but if he feels otherwise, he has his reasons, I guess," DeCample said.
Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race is one of the most hotly contested races in the nation and had already seen millions spent by outside groups hoping to influence the outcome.