Miami With communities in the Midwest still under water, Democrat Barack Obama on Saturday criticized Republican John McCain for opposing federal spending on flood prevention programs and opened a new debate in the White House race.
McCain's campaign said Obama was engaging in typical political attacks that the Democrat rejects in his speeches and confusing the facts.
Both candidates have visited the flood zones in the past two weeks, since tornadoes hit and heavy rains sent rivers surging over their banks. At least 24 people were killed, the majority in Iowa.
Obama, an Illinois senator, canceled a visit to eastern Iowa last week at the request of state officials and instead went to fill sandbags in Quincy, Ill. McCain, an Arizona senator, toured flood damage in Iowa Thursday.
"I know that Sen. McCain felt as strongly as I did," Obama said, "feeling 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."
The bill that McCain opposed spent $23 billion on water projects. It passed Congress overwhelmingly and was vetoed by President Bush because he said it spent too much on lawmaker's pet projects. Congress voted to override the veto, the first time of Bush's presidency.
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.
McCain's campaign said Obama opposed an amendment that McCain co-sponsored to prioritize 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 McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.