McCain defends position on Florida measures

June 5, 2008 6:48:32 PM PDT
Republican John McCain faced tough questions Thursday about why he opposed a measure to restore the Everglades that had broad support from Florida officials, including Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and GOP Sen. Mel Martinez. McCain said he couldn't support the Everglades measure because it was part of a massive, pork-barrel spending bill last year.

But the Arizona senator said he would have supported the measure on its own. He planned a tour of the Everglades on Friday.

"I am committed to saving the Everglades," McCain insisted to a convention of Florida newspaper editors. "I will do whatever is necessary to do so, and I have made that clear to the rest of the delegation."

The $2 billion restoration plan was backed by Crist and Martinez, key Republican supporters of McCain. But McCain sided with President Bush, who vetoed the bill that included the Everglades funding along with hundreds of other local water projects, such as dams and beach restoration.

Nonetheless, the measure became law last November when the Democratic-controlled Congress overrode Bush's veto.

McCain faced the question at a town hall-style forum with the newspaper editors. He asked the questioner, Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch, if the Everglades restoration bill was part of an overall or "omnibus" spending bill.

"It was," Hirsch said.

"So you just answered your own question," McCain said. "I am committed to the preservation of the Everglades. I do not, have not, am proud not to have, voted for omnibus spending bills."

McCain also faced criticism Thursday from Democrat Barack Obama's campaign for another priority of Florida officials, a national catastrophic insurance fund for hurricane-prone states. The measure is another instance where McCain sided with Bush over Crist and other state officials.

Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said that "by choosing to stand with George Bush's failed policies, instead of standing with the families of Florida, he can't deliver the change the country needs and deserves."

McCain has said he would instead bring industry and government together to protect homeowners. His spokesman, Tucker Bounds, said Thursday that the government-run fund would ignore the need for reforms of the private insurance market to make sure everyone can get coverage.

"John McCain earned Governor Crist's endorsement well after Senator McCain had articulated his position on this issue, because John McCain has the strength, experience and judgment to lead," Bounds said.