DeFazio makes a point.
Most bills are introduced in Congress with at least a glimmer of a hope that they'll become law. Others are intended simply to make a statement.
Congressman Peter DeFazio's "American Parity Act" is a fiendishly ingenious example of the latter. Co-sponsored by the Oregon Democrat and Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the bill would require the federal government to match every dollar spent on Iraqi infrastructure with a dollar for improvements in health care, education and infrastructure here in the United States.
The bill has a slim chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, although it has picked up the support of a dozen members in the past week, including Republican Congressman John Duncan Jr., of Tennessee. The bill may not even receive a dignified burial in committee. No matter. DeFazio's legislation and barbed quotes are likely to get nationwide attention at a time state and local governments across the nation are enduring staggering budget cuts.
When the level of need is so great at home, it's hard for even diehard Bush loyalists to reconcile the president's new request for an additional $87 billion for reconstruction of Iraq. The money would help pay for health care for millions of Iraqis, rehabilitation of Iraqi schools, construction of new housing, repairs to thousands of miles of roads and bridges, and dredging of Iraqi ports.
Such spending is especially hard to accept for Oregonians, who have been harder hit by the nationwide economic slump than residents of most other states. Oregon consistently has the highest unemployment and hunger rates in the nation. Its highways and bridges are deteriorating, and fixing them will cost nearly $5 billion. Many small coastal communities lack sufficient federal funding for the dredging necessary to keep their ports open and their economies alive. School funding remains far short of what state officials have determined necessary to provide a high-quality education and to meet federal mandates. Here in Lane County, federal budget cuts are delaying emergency repairs to the Fern Ridge Dam.
DeFazio says Bush suffers from an "unbelievable disconnect" in his spending priorities abroad vs. at home. He's right. The White House has so steadfastly resisted any efforts to provide substantive new federal assistance to deficit-ridden states that it's hard to believe the president was formerly the governor of one of those states. Meanwhile, Bush's misplaced spending priorities are compounded by his insistence on new tax cuts at a time the federal deficit is at a record high and continuing to skyrocket.
Of course, DeFazio's "dollar-for-dollar" approach is hardly a model for how responsible federal budget decisions should be made. It glosses over the complexities involved in balancing domestic spending vs. spending for ongoing military and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, efforts that cannot in good conscience be scaled back or abandoned. DeFazio's pledge that he won't "vote for a penny for Iraq" unless the parity-spending bill is adopted is a bit over the top and teeters on the brink of legislative irresponsibility.
But the habitually feisty congressman has a way of making points - and his bill shines a glaring spotlight on the misplaced spending priorities of the Bush administration.