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Story Archives: Sniping and griping in the Senate
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|Sniping and griping in the Senate|
In an interview with this publication roughly two weeks ago, 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander delivered what we would describe as bad news.
He acknowledged Louisiana farmers would have to wait until after the first of the year, or when a new Congress took office, to learn whether the federal government will come to the aid of farmers and others who suffered immense losses thanks to hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The aid in question concerns disaster payments, or other federal assistance, to help offset the hundreds of millions of dollars in losses our friends in the agricultural community incurred when Gustav and Ike struck the state not long ago.
It's no hidden secret farmers from one end of Louisiana to the other were poised to harvest an excellent crop when Gustav roared ashore. Commodity prices were fairly strong, too, meaning farmers stood to do better than break even if they were successful in harvesting their crops void of a disaster and the like. That was an encouraging sign on the economic front. After all, when farmers do well the economy feels it through increased spending in the service sector. That's especially true in communities such as Monroe, the economic hub of northeastern Louisiana, a region of the state that depends on farmers doing their part to help fuel the economy.
Gustav changed all of that, though, in more ways than one. The storm ruined a large percentage of crops, including corn, cotton and soybeans, which, historically speaking, are what we would call the big cash crops. Many crops that survived the hurricane were damaged almost to the point that it was useless to spend the money to harvest them. Also, land was eroded to some degree in some areas of the state because of the vast amount of rain Gustav dumped as it made its trek across Louisiana to points north.
Alexander told us federal assistance for farmers was placed a backburner because of the crisis situation on Wall Street. As we know now, the crisis prompted Congress to approve an $800 billion bailout for a host of horse traders who gambled big-time in the sub-prime mortgage business and lost their shirts along the way.
While Alexander was what we would describe as diplomatic in explaining why Congress put the screws to farmers until 2009, Sen. Mary Landrieu seized the opportunity to turn the ag issue into a political one, or a Democratic versus Republican affair. Remember, Landrieu, a Democrat, is in the midst of a hard fought re-election campaign against a well-financed Republican, state Treasurer John Kennedy. It's a close race.
In bemoaning Congress' decision to place the ag bailout on hold, Landrieu specifically accused Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, of playing politics. She said he blocked a legislative maneuver intended to aid farmers to boost Kennedy's bid to unseat Louisiana's senior senator.
The measure Landrieu championed supposedly would have freed up some $1.1 billion in federal aid. The federal aid also would have assisted people who are still dealing with the fallout from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Those folks, according to Landrieu, remain at odds with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Imagine that?
Coburn, of course, defended his actions. He said politics had nothing to do with his decision to block $1 billion and some change for people who stared down Gustav and Ike.
But Landrieu had a legitimate beef, or a fairly legitimate reason for hollering foul over Coburn's fancy footwork. That's the case because Coburn's political action committee, Truth, Accountability and Courage PAC, donated some $10,000 to Kennedy's Senate campaign. Thus, Coburn's behavior looked entirely politically motivated.
What was surprising about the Coburn/Landrieu exchange was we witnessed a member of the Senate publicly accuse a colleague of meddling in a senator's politics. That's why Landrieu's griping about Coburn garnered headlines in publications across the country.
In years past, we would have said Landrieu was stretching it a bit when she accused a colleague of acting strictly political over an issue as important as extending federal aid to people who suffered at the hands of a natural disaster.
We should be reminded, though, that this 2008. It is an emotionally charged election year in which control of the presidency, and the Congress, too, is at stake. Anything is possible, including two members of the U.S. Senate sniping at one another like school children.