Jane Chastain is a Southern California-based broadcaster, author and political commentator. Despite her present emphasis on politics, Jane always will be remembered as the nation's first female TV sportscaster, spending 17 years on the sports beat. Jane blogs at JaneChastain.com. She is a pilot who lives on a private runway.More ↓Less ↑
I call them “tragedy tramps,” those who would seek to capitalize on human suffering.
The events in Arizona have made us sick to our collective stomachs. Even as we go for the Alka-Seltzer, there are those who make us sicker still by trying to capitalize on this tragedy.
There are the usual suspects who try to blame political discourse and want to shut down the “political speech” of anyone with whom they disagree.
There are those who blame the instrument used in this tragedy – in this case a gun.
Worse still are the members of the misguided, tiny, independent church in Kansas who want to use the funerals of these innocent victims as a place to protest against homosexuality.
In the same category are those seeking to raise money off these murders. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders just sent out a fundraising letter asking his supporters to send money for his re-election so he can fight against Republicans and other “right-wing reactionaries.”
But the thing I really found to be over the top this time around was the thinly veiled attempt by a few lawmakers to use this event as an excuse to increase their budgets, perks and privileges.
It is no secret that Democrats are still smarting over the fact that the Republican-led House voted to cut the congressional budget by 5 percent to save the taxpayers $35 million. It’s not much, but it’s a start down the road to fiscal stability and a signal of what lies ahead. It’s also a tacit acknowledgment that the average American family has had to cut its budget.
It is reasonable to expect Congress to do the same. But, no, many of these coddled lawmakers feel they are above it all. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. proposed increasing lawmaker budgets by 10 percent to bolster security in district offices. He wasn’t alone.
At the forefront of this discussion is Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Sounding more like a pouty teenager who has lost his allowance and cell-phone privileges, he told Bret Baier on “Fox News Sunday,” “We ought to take a look at our MSA accounts, and rather than cut, cut, cut we ought to look at whether or not we need to beef up the funding for individual accounts so that congresspeople can work with their state and local law enforcement officers. … I do believe that they can supplement, they cannot substitute (for additional security).”
Then the real whining began: “I think we need to take a hard look at how members go through airports. It is a place where members feel ill at ease. … We’ve had some incidents where TSA authorities think that congresspeople should be treated like everybody else.”
I acknowledge that all lawmakers receive threats. Most people who have a public profile receive threats, even lowly sportscasters. I remember one particularly long day that ended with the bomb squad searching our home. I was just too tired to go to a hotel and announced to my equally weary husband, “I’m going to sleep in our own bed tonight, no matter what!” If you are in the public eye, you learn to live with this reality.
The truth is most people can’t even tell you the name of their congressmen, much less pick one out of a lineup. I wish it were different. We would have a lot better government if more people cared about who represents them in Washington. However, using this heinous act committed by one deranged individual as an excuse to pad the budget, demand a security detail or privileged treatment at airports is shameful.
It is altogether reasonable that the speaker of the House gets a car, driver and security. After all, the speaker is second in line to the presidency. Traditionally, each party leader and the party whip also get these privileges.
In the last election, when the Democrats lost the majority and the speakership, Nancy Pelosi moved down to minority leader, Steny Hoyer moved down to party whip and Clyburn was the odd man out.
Clyburn put up such a ruckus that Pelosi created a new post, assistant minority leader, just for him. As yet there is no line item in the budget for this post. A staff member confirmed that Clyburn still has his security detail.
Nevertheless, the budget for the minority staff is less than that for the majority. It is unclear just how much of the minority budget Pelosi was willing to give up for Clyburn. After all the whining, my guess is not too much.
Welcome to the real world Mr. Clyburn!
This reminder: Congressmen are public servants, not potentates.