Saturday, October 22, 2005

Senate to New Orleans: Drop Dead

Thursday was a dark day for the United States Senate. After weeks of pious concern for Katrina victims and budgetary soul-searching concerning the costs of disaster relief, it took a freshman Senator to force that august body to put its priorities where its pie-hole is. How did that turn out? Not so well.

Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, proposed an amendment to a transportation and housing spending bill that would undo some of the more egregious pork barrel projects earmarked in a recent highway bill. Shortly after the highway bill passed, you may remember, ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay famously crowed that there was simply no fat left to cut out of the federal budget. What DeLay failed to disclose (and doesn't it seem like he's failed to disclose an awful lot recently?) were such gems as an appropriation of over $200 million for a bridge in Alaska that would connect an island—with a population of less than 50—to the mainland.

Coburn's amendment proposed that this earmark and several others like it would be canceled and funds would be diverted to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief instead. Sounds reasonable, no? Apparently not. In his idealism, Coburn failed to recognize that hell hath no fury like a politician's pet project scorned. Only 15 Senators stood up and voted for this amendment (and only four of them were Democrats). For the rest of the Senate, special interests and personal priorities take precedence over a national emergency. How else are they going to get re-elected, right?

It's a good thing hardly anyone pays any attention to this kind of thing or people would get a little ticked off.

In another shining moment on Thursday, the Senate failed to muster the necessary 60 votes to appropriate over $3 billion for heating oil subsidies for low income families—this in response to forecasts that home heating bills may soar between 25 and 45% this winter. 53 Senators, 11 of them Republicans, voted in favor of the bill, while 46 (an overwhelming 44 of which were Republicans) voted against it.

I don't know if the disparity is because Northern Democratic strongholds are more likely to use heating oil during the harsh winters, or if families in Southern red states are simply more likely to heat their homes by burning wood and Harry Potter novels. It certainly couldn't be because the Republican Party doesn't care about poor people, could it? (You can borrow that line if you want, Kanye.) Maybe it's just because Republicans are well known to be fiscal conservatives—except in cases of personal pet projects, corporate tax breaks, oil subsidies and military spending, that is.

So, take it in stride, New Orleans. The Senate didn't just tell you to drop dead, they gave a great big "screw you" to the whole country.
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