It’s almost as certain to happen as the likelihood of snowflakes falling here in January. Each time a member of the U.S. Congress or Senate calls for a new law or a change in policy that would benefit the unemployed and working poor in Appalachia, you can bet the proposal will not have come from Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers or Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The latest example involves a request that President Barack Obama pay extra attention to Appalachia and the nation’s other chronically impoverished regions while the White House continues to formulate plans to reduce America’s 9.4 percent jobless rate. The request comes from U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who is the latest legislator from elsewhere to act in the best interests of mountain people.
Noting that the Great Recession has brought even more economic devastation to parts of Appalachia and other regions with already extraordinarily high unemployment rates (the northern Great Plains and the Mississippi Delta were also mentioned), Clyburn is calling on the Obama Administration to “pay particular attention to communities that have been traditionally left out of past recovery efforts” by including in its recovery plan a “10-20-30” policy directing at least 10 percent of any recovery efforts into communities with 20 percent poverty rates for 30 years.
While Clyburn was busy this week and last working to ensure that economic recovery efforts don’t ignore America’s poorest regions and leave them in what he termed “deeper trouble than before,” Kentucky’s lawmakers were boasting about their work in helping to keep divisive politics alive and well.
On Jan. 20, Rep. Rogers issued a press release celebrating his vote in favor of a house bill he co-sponsored — the “Repealing the Job- Killing Health Care Law Act” which, despite its passage in the House by a vote of 245-189, has no chance of being approved by the Senate or, if it does, of being signed into law by the President.
Meanwhile, instead of taking advantage of his leadership role to work on behalf of Kentuckians who are hurting for jobs, Sen. McConnell was busy appearing on television news shows to announce that he had no plans to answer calls for more civility and less partisanship in Congress — brought on by the recent shooting in Arizona of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — by joining many of his fellow Republican lawmakers in breaking with tradition and sitting together with Democrats during President Obama’s State of the Union address. While Rep. Clyburn was on the airwaves this week speaking on behalf of McConnell’s Appalachian constituents, McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, spent his time vowing to bring the health care repeal act to a vote in the Senate even though it would face certain veto by President Obama.
Even more disheartening for those still struggling to find work were the actions this week of our newest representative in Washington, Sen. Rand Paul, who announced Monday that he is devoting his attention to another new bill which has virtually no chance of being passed into law — the anti-abortion Life at Conception Act. When Kentuckians voted in November to send Paul to Congress, they did so hoping he could shake things up in a way that might create more jobs for the people back home. Now is not the time for Paul to be acting on a divisive social issue that has already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and does nothing for those struggling to make ends meet.
Not one of these lawmakers has so much as lifted a pinky to help battle stubbornly high unemployment in the state that somehow saw fit to elect them. None of them has offered even a 25-watt idea about how to put the nation firmly on the road to economic recovery. They would rather fight battles they have no hope of winning, to curry favor with people at home and around the country who have thick wallets and write big checks. Watching them in action would be funny if the consequences weren’t so tragic.
Thanks, Rep. Clyburn, for speaking up for us.