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Administration launches 100-city tour promoting spending on eve of sequester

By John Solomon

Friday - 2/22/2013, 10:38am  ET

Just days from massive spending cuts known as the budget sequester, the Obama administration has launched a 100-city tour that has dispatched officials from multiple federal agencies to help communities tap into new government spending.

The White House's "Connecting Your Community" program launched in Oregon earlier this month, and so outraged a senator influential on spending issues that he wrote President Barack Obama's top budget officials urging it be canceled immediately.

"If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100 city cross country tour?," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wrote Thursday night in a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

"It is important that we as public officials lead by example, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to save taxpayers money and better prioritize government spending," added Coburn, who was a key member of the so-called Gang of Six senators that sought bipartisan solutions to the nation's debt crisis.

Officials from the White House, Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency, HUD, the Transportation Department and Commerce Department all descended earlier this month on Beaverton, Ore., a small city that has received extensive attention in recent months from the Obama administration, including a grant for a sustainable community awarded earlier this month.

White House officials did not immediately respond Friday to Coburn's letter. But White House Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs, Jay Williams, was quoted earlier this week in the Oregon media as saying the tour is designed to eliminate barriers among various departments to speed federal aid and "help enhance the things that are going on here in terms of the revitalization."

Coburn's letter questioned why so many federal officials needed to visit the city, when it has already shown a strong ability to win federal monies with $2 million in recent grants. He said the specter of the larger tour conflicted with the doomsday scenarios the White House has been talking about in recent days in pressuring Congress to forestall the so-called sequester cuts that could leave to widespread federal layoffs, reductions in park services and significant reductions in military patrols.

"Much is being made about the possible impact of sequestration on government programs for the poor and middle class, food safety, and the defense of our nation.  It is somewhat surprising, therefore, for the White House to be headlining a 100 city government spending tour, transporting representatives from multiple departments and various agencies around the country to promote federal largesse," Coburn wrote Jeffrey Zienst, the OMB's deputy director.