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(WARNING:  This diary contains depictions of children in peril.  It may not be suitable for all audiences.)

Last week, I wrote about how Dave Reichert was the deciding vote for a bill to give George Bush the unchecked authority to hand over Washington's coast and other public lands to the oil companies.  He simply decided to side with Bush and the oil companies over all other interests.

Just in time for Halloween, here's the true story of Reichert providing another one-vote margin to pass nightmarish legislation in the House of Representatives.  The Republican leadership stitched together this Frankenstein's monster just a year ago.  It slashed food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunch programs, foster care, and child welfare.  It sold off treasured public lands, including national parks, to mining companies.  No victim was so vulnerable, so pitiful, or so in-need, that this monster would spare them.

Read on to learn more about the simple and terrible spark that powered this monster, and how Dave Reichert brought it to life.

The Monster Emerges

It came to the floor of the House on November 17, 2005, and wouldn't leave until the 18th.  It was known as H.R. 4241, but its victims would likely never know its name.  The hungry child, the elderly without medical attention -- they would simply know the misery they experienced, not the horrible beast that was wrought in Congress that fateful day.

Behold the Monster.  There in the fine print, in tidy little tables, the true savagery of the monster can be seen.  $44 billion cut from education.  Billions from Medicaid, from food programs for the poor in the Ag Dept.  Altogether, almost $126 billion cut from the federal budget.

But that's looking at the monster through binoculars.  What does it look like up close?

Measure the fangs.  It cut school lunch programs for 40,000 children.  Student loan programs cut by $20 billion.  In unspeakable cruelty, it would even allow some of the elderly to be thrown out of their nursing homes.  

Child support cut by $15 billion.  Foster care cut by $1.2 billion.  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cut by $800 million.  And in order to raise revenue, it authorizes the sell-off of treasured public lands, including even national parks.

The Peasants Grab their Pitchforks

As tales of the monster spread across the countryside, the peasants acted bravely. Some spoke for the children who couldn't speak for themselves.  Word spread from hamlet to hamlet.  Once word got out that the monster slashed Medicaid by $48 billion, surely it would be stopped.

As the menace loomed, the state legislatures jumped into the fight:

The National Conference of State Legislatures urges [Congress] to drop, in their entirety, human services cuts that undermine and compromise programs that provide essential services for vulnerable children, families and individuals, violate the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act and result in unacceptable cost shifts to state governments

The Council of the Great City Schools which represents Seattle's schools system opposed the monstrous H.R. 4241, saying

Virtually all public school groups, higher education organizations, anti-
poverty groups, and environmental interests have actively sought to defeat this Budget
Reconciliation bill due to the harsh budget cuts and other policies contained in the measure.

Such was the threat, that even groups not accustomed to battling monsters stepped into the fray such as the American Association of University Women and the National Council for the Social Studies.

The Peasants are Vanquished

With pitchfork and torch in hand, the peasants tried to defeat the monster.  It was a close and valiant fight.  Champions rose up to speak elegantly for their cause.  The peasants would have won too.  That is, they would have won if they could have found just one more Republican willing to buck the Republican leadership and kill the monster.  

Unfortunately, they couldn't. The National Mental Health Association tells us what happened:

In the early hours of November 18th, the House narrowly passed budget legislation (H.R. 4241) that includes unwarranted and potentially devastating changes to the Medicaid program in order to generate savings to finance tax cut legislation. Program beneficiaries would overwhelmingly bear the burden of these House-passed Medicaid cuts.

The House-passed Medicaid provisions would impose harsh and overly burdensome cost-sharing increases, premiums, and reduced benefits on the low-income individuals who rely on this critical safety net program (see background section for more details). Congress should reject such Medicaid cuts outright.

The bill passed by a single vote.  And as they note, the spark that gave this monster life was not a desire for fiscal responsibility.  There was no plan to balance the budget.  The Republicans wanted to slash these programs in order to deliver a huge tax cut to the wealthy.   The true horror of the monster is realized!

This fact is recognized and further explained by the taxpayer advocacy group, Taxpayers for the Common Sense:

When combined with the revenue losses that will result from the soon to be debated tax bill, it is possible that H.R. 4241 will result in higher, not lower, future deficits.

One particularly egregious example of special interest handouts in the reconciliation bill is the Committee on Resources proposal to alter the 1872 Mining Law.  This provision will undermine true reform of this outdated and wasteful law, resulting in a fire sale of federal lands.  The federal government would be required to sell public lands for either $1,000 per acre or "fair market value" of the surface estate, disregarding the valuable mineral deposits the land may contain.  This will allow developers and prospectors to buy mineral-rich lands at rock-bottom prices, and deny taxpayers the opportunity to profit from the resources they own.

In addition, H.R. 4241 would bar the government from collecting mineral royalties on public lands, stripping the ability for taxpayers to collect reimbursements for uses that occur on public lands.  Finally, vague language in the bill fails to ensure that land made available for purchase in this legislation must be used for mining purposes, and could result in the purchase of land for residential or commercial purposes.  This concern was echoed by a Denver Post editorial which stated, "the amendments really aren't about mining; they're about real estate speculation."

As the Wilderness Society explains, this is why the Governors of Washington and five other western states (Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon) condemned the provisions in the bill that would allow the federal government to sell public land based on "absurd economics" and threaten public access to millions of acres.

Even rockclimbers were up in arms over the bill - concerned that climbing areas throughout the West could be sold off.  They were specifically concerned about losing access to Darrington, WA

Dave Reichert voted for the bill.  Whether he thought this monster was a great idea or just refused to stand up to the evil, we may never know.

But there is one thing we can be sure of:  We'd be better off with a real monster killer in Congress.

Originally posted to FranklySpeaking on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 10:31 AM PDT.

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