WASHINGTON - The highest-ranking black member of Congress yesterday accused Southern governors who oppose economic stimulus spending of indifference to the plight of poor blacks who might benefit from the federal money.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) amplified earlier statements that the governors' hesitation in accepting stimulus money had insulted him because "these four states are in the heart of the Black Belt."
Mr. Clyburn singled out Republican Govs. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Haley Barbour of Mississippi for criticism.
The four governors have said they might turn down their states' shares of the $787 billion stimulus bill that Congress passed last week - with almost no Republican support - and that President Obama signed into law Tuesday.
Mr. Clyburn said the measure reserved some money for census tracts in which more than one-fifth of the residents had lived at or below the federal poverty level for the last 30 years.
He said that 12 of South Carolina's 46 counties qualified for the targeted aid, all along the impoverished I-95 corridor.
"Now the [South Carolina] governor says, 'I don't want to accept the money,'•" Mr. Clyburn told CNN.
"That's why I called this an insult. That's why I said this is a slap in the face; because a majority of these counties are, in fact, inhabited by African-Americans," he said.
Mr. Sanford, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said that he and Mr. Clyburn held different views of Mr. Obama's plan to jolt the economy through massive government spending combined with tax cuts.
"Representative Clyburn and I disagree on this," Mr. Sanford told Fox News on Thursday. "He thinks it's a good idea. I think it's a horrible idea."
Mr. Sanford is "still looking at the stimulus package to determine what our options are, and whether to accept or reject some, none, or all of this money," said Joel Sawyer, the governor's spokesman.
Mr. Clyburn was asked whether he was accusing Mr. Sanford and the other three governors of racism.
"No, I've never used that word in my life," he said. "I'll not use it now."
Mr. Clyburn, though, evoked the civil rights era.
He said that a 1982 amendment to the Voting Rights Act had made it clear that prosecutors didn't have to prove intentional wrongdoing to enforce the law.
Not all Republican governors who are skeptical of the stimulus package are Southerners. 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also have criticized it, among others.