B y J i m N i n t z e l
IT'S A HEADY time in our nation's capital as the Newtoids overrun the House of Representatives in their zealous charge to re-invent government.
Among the loyal foot soldiers in the new American revolution are the GOP congressmen from Arizona--old warhorse Bob Stump, Southern Arizona's Jim Kolbe and the three amigos, freshmen members Matt Salmon, J.D. Hayworth and John Shadegg.
The folks at Project Votesmart--call 'em anytime at 1-800-622-SMART and they'll cheerfully tell you all about your elected servants--have been kind enough to share recent votes from the Contract With America legislation that rushed through the House a while back. As you can see, this bunch presents a united front--with just a few defections, the GOP members have hung together, with Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor almost always on the opposite--and losing--side.
Among the bills reported below:
HR 4, which changed the welfare system by placing a time limit on benefits, making recipients work and denying cash benefits for additional children. These are good ideas, but they won't really work unless you include provisions that pay for child care for single mothers and job training for people who lack skills. Of course, there's little talk of that on Capitol Hill. Perhaps they'll include a little extra in those block grants to the states.
HJR 73, which proposed a Constitutional amendment to limit members of the U.S. House to six two-year terms and members of the U.S. Senate to two six-year terms. Surprisingly, as you can see, one of the GOP freshmen, Rep. Salmon, broke with the pack and voted against term limits.
HR 1215, which cut taxes by $189 billion over the next five years, mostly in the form of a $500-per-child tax credit and a cut in capital gains tax rates. Yes, there's no reason everyone should feel pain while we "re-invent" government--a tax cut for the wealthy is certainly in order as we go about balancing the budget.
HR 988, which aimed to reduce civil lawsuits by instituting a "losers pay" rule and increasing the standards for scientific evidence at trials, and HR 1058, which similarly seeks to protect security firms from lawsuits with another "losers pay" rule and a strict definition of securities fraud. Even though similar tort reform lost last year on a statewide ballot, our GOP boys in D.C. voted in favor of the laws.
Which, as columnist Robert Wright pointed out a few months back in The New Republic, is typical GOP thinking: A "losers pay" rule inevitably protects the haves from the have-nots, by making it difficult--if not impossible--for those without deep pockets to even consider filing any kind of grievance against megacorporations and their tanks full of lawyers. Yes, frivolous lawsuits will be reduced. So will suits with merit, unfortunately.
If that weren't enough evidence that the GOP gang has sold the shop to Big Business at the expense of Joe Taxpayer, more proof arrives with a recent scorecard sent out by the League of Conservation Voters, rating the environmental voting record of the congressmen over the first 100 days. Four of Arizona's six reps scored a big fat zero on the scorecard, and Tucson Rep. Jim Kolbe scored only nine out of 100. Rep. Pastor scored a perfect 100.
The four goose eggs--Reps Salmon, Stump, Shadegg and Hayworth--have voted together consistently, feverishly working to undermine environmental laws and regulations.
Take takings, for example. An all-too-vague word for a complex concept, takings is generally shorthand for private property takings legislation. Proponents of takings law believe that if the government enacts a regulation that causes a property owner to lose some the value of his property, then the government owes him for the loss.
A simple enough concept, until you consider the result of the proposed laws, which would entangle regulations in so much expensive red tape that government agencies can no longer afford to enact or enforce them, and the citizens are left to the mercy of friendly corporate giants like Hughes and Motorola. As an added bonus, you get to financially comfort the moaning property owner because some damn rule says he can't bury toxic waste in his backyard, robbing him of the potential profits of his planned hazwaste dump.
Takings is subtle legislation; supporters wrap themselves in the flag, preaching about their Constitutional rights, while all along the real agenda is to make themselves the beneficiaries of the biggest federal entitlement program since LBJ's Great Society.
Takings has been big in our state politics for years now. When the Arizona Legislature passed a takings law in 1992, a coalition of environmental groups banded together to beat the streets, gather signatures and put the issue on the ballot. In 1994, voters across the state rejected the legislation by a 60-40 margin.
Think our GOP contingent in Washington consider that an expression of the will of the voters? Don't count on it. As the League of Conservation Voter notes, only Democrat Pastor voted against it when it came up in the House in early March.
Shadegg didn't stop at just voting for the measure. After the legislation passed, he boldly decided to hold a public meeting on the controversy. Of course, he only invited his friends in the agricultural and logging communities, and neglected to tell critics of takings legislation until days before the deadline to testify. He also forgot to mention the meeting to the press.
When some cranky environmentalists began making noises about the meeting, Shadegg scrambled to find a GOP greenie. He finally found Raena Honan, state lobbyist for the Sierra Club and a conservative who knows pork when she smells it. She opposed the measure and helped bring out plenty of people to support her side--of the 500 folks who turned out for the hearing, two-thirds were sporting "No means no" stickers. But you can be sure that won't sway those fresh GOP faces.
The rest of the environmental votes tell the same story, with the exception an amendment to House Resolution 1022, a convoluted mix of "risk assessment" and "cost benefit" legislation. The LCW folks say this bill is similar to takings: "Rather than streamlining bureaucratic procedures, so-called "regulatory reform" legislation actually sets up a one-sided array of procedural and analytical roadblocks to environmental protection, while exempting pesticide companies and other corporate interests from these same requirements. In addition, industries resisting new safeguards can lodge legal challenges to the cost and risk assessments, potentially adding years of delay."
In other words, taxpayers will be forced to spend a fortune in court costs before any new regulations can be enacted against polluters.
All five House Republicans think this is a nifty idea--they all voted in favor of the bill, which is now in the Senate. But Rep. Jim Kolbe cast his only pro-environment vote when he split from the rest of the pack on a vote on an amendment which would have applied the new regulation legislation to existing rules, effectively wiping out any environmental statutes written over the last quarter century.
Most of the legislation that passed in the House is now in the Senate, where it's being scaled back. And President Bill Clinton still has a veto, which he proved recently when he rejected legislation that slashed $16.4 billion from the proposed budgets for food aid, education and the President's prized national service program.
Meanwhile, the boys in the House are rolling up their sleeves and going back to work. There's that Christian Coalition Contract with the American Family thing to pass, you know.
To learn more about how your reps are voting, call Project Votesmart at 1-800-622-SMART.
Cutline 1: U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe scored nine out of 100 on a recent League of Conservation Voters scorecard.
Photo by Ken Matesich.
Cutline 2: U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor continues to oppose the Contract With America.
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