I've long believed that wankerish NoLabels-loving conservaDem Jim Cooper has deserved a primary challenge. It's not just his votes but his mouth: He's spent his whole career publicly undermining the Democratic Party, despite sitting in a safe district. (Tennessee's 5th Congressional District went for Obama by a 56-43 margin.) On Tuesday, though, it was his vote that mattered most: He was the only Democrat who said "nay" to $51 billion in vital federal relief funds for the areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Needless to say, this is an absolute outrage. How could Cooper do such a thing? How could he stand to be such a hypocrite? Less than three years ago, his home state of Tennessee was ravaged by flooding so severe that they were dubbed "1,000-year floods" and even earned their own Wikipedia article. Cooper's own city of Nashville was damaged badly—very badly:
"There is a lot of hardship in Nashville," said Congressman Jim Cooper. "A lot of streets, homes, a lot of businesses that are still hurting. We got to make sure everybody gets every penny of help."And the federal government didn't hesitate to help, ultimately providing almost $613 million in disaster aid to the state. After all, that's what the federal government is for, to step in and help people and businesses recover when nature takes a terrible toll. No one begrudged the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee one dime.
But oh, Cooper begrudges New York and New Jersey—and how. At $66 billion and counting—not to mention 253 deaths—Sandy is the second costliest hurricane in American history, behind only Katrina. Yet this is how Cooper reacted:
Cooper: The bill wasn't paid for. In fact, it wasn't even partially paid for. Congress really made no effort to pay for even a fracture of it, so it added $50 billion to the deficit. I did support last week $9 billion, free and clear, I did support in this legislation $20-plus billion free and clear, but the extra $30 billion really should have been at least partly paid for. This is consistent with my past votes on deficits and on disaster relief. You should read the Washington Post editorial today. It's excellent, pointing out how Congress regularly fails to handle our emergency responsibilities.Cooper's views on deficit spending reflect the typical psychosis of what Paul Krugman refers to as the "Very Serious People," but I'm not going to get into the macroeconomics of Cooper's delusions when interest rates are at historic lows. Rather, I'll simply point out that the notion that disaster spending should be "offset"—that is, matched by equivalent spending cuts—is an extreme minority view. How do I know this? Because the GOP tried to enforce exactly this doctrine with a separate vote Tuesday on an amendment sponsored by South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney.
Another thing is, this isn't any regular period in American history here. This is a period of budget crisis, literally. Because America's been officially out of money since the first of the year. So we added to the deficit without even lifting a finger to offset the spending is pretty irresponsible at a time like this. You know, I love New England. My friends up there, if they need help, I voted for tens of billions of help, but to have the full package not even partially offset, it's a new level of congressional spending.
That amendment, however, failed badly: By a 258-162 margin, virtually all Democrats and almost a third of Republicans rejected the notion that disaster aid must be accompanied by cutbacks elsewhere. Of course, Cooper was part of that minority, siding with the likes of Michele Bachmann, Steve Stockman, and Scott DesJarlais, even though he claimed afterward: "I hate voting with the Republicans."
Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Cooper, throughout his career, has made a point of siding with Republicans against major Democratic initiatives. In 1993 and '94, Cooper was a key figure in derailing the Clinton health care reform efforts by claiming that his bogus alternative was "the only bipartisan approach" and trying to gin up sentiment against the White House plan. Sadly, it worked, and Cooper, who always claims to operate out of some high-minded principle, raked in tons of cash from the insurance industry as a result.
More recently, he was one of just 11 Democrats to vote against the stimulus bill in 2009—and it's worth noting that that entire crew (save Cooper and fellow Blue Dog Collin Peterson) are all out of Congress now. But I'm not cherry-picking: These are just two of the more notable examples in this mini-Lieberman's long track record of sabotaging his own party when it mattered most. I could cite many more.
Cooper, a Rhodes Scholar, is obsessed with being a wanker. It's just in his blood. But when translated into action, his instincts lead to callous and cruel outcomes, and they damage the Democratic Party. Cooper may be a well-known and well-connected figure in Nashville (his daddy was governor, after all), but he's not invulnerable. It's long past time we rid ourselves of him. The only question now is, who will step up?