|Spencer Bachus (right) in an area
hit by tornadoes
Many progressives probably would say they knew all along that U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) was a tool. But this spring's tornadoes in Alabama, and their aftermath, should erase any doubt.
As we reported earlier this month, Alabama's entire Republican delegation in Congress--including Bachus--voted against funding for satellites that are a critical component of accurate weather forecasting. News of Bachus' vote broke about a week after tornadoes killed more than 230 people in Alabama.
That did not keep Bachus from touring areas devastated by the tornadoes and issuing somber statements that made it appear he actually cares about the safety of Alabama citizens. But the 10-term Congressman is having an increasingly difficult time running from his vote on weather satellites. As a resident of Bachus' district, I've become disgusted that Democrats have not been able to mount a challenge to Bachus since 1998. But Bachus now has gift-wrapped an issue with which an able Democrat should be able to beat him about the head. Will a progressive step up to the plate and give Spencer Bachus a much-deserved boot to the curt in 2012? Time will tell.
But for now, this much is clear: Spencer Bachus stuck by his "conservative principles" and voted to cut federal spending at the expense of accurate weather forecasting in Alabama and elsewhere. That could cost thousands of American lives in an age where tornadoes seem to be hitting with increasing frequency and ferocity. (See Missouri, Joplin.) Spencer Bachus needs to pay a political price for his arrogance and shortsightedness.
To no one's surprise, Alabama's right-wing mainstream press has been trying to provide cover for Bachus and his Republican buddies in Congress. Mary Orndorff, of The Birmingham News, reported on May 8 about the gap in satellite coverage. Orndorff wrote that Janet Lubchenko, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), had confirmed the gap--and it was caused by deep cuts this spring in the fiscal 2011 budget. Orndorff then included this passage about Bachus:
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, said Lubchenko told him about the gap in satellite coverage while they were visiting the weather service office in Calera last weekend after the storms.
"I said that I would work to minimize if not eliminate any delays or disruptions in the launch of this new system which would provide enhanced coverage and protection," Bachus said Friday. "This issue has not received the attention it needs and it is something that we should work on in a bipartisan way."
Orndorff conveniently failed to mention that Bachus had voted for the budgetary cuts that imperiled satellite coverage. But her reporting did indicate that Bachus had no idea his votes in Congress have repercussions.
Now, even The Birmingham News is struggling to cover up Spencer Bachus' ineptitude. The paper reported last week that Bachus is asking the Department of Defense to help shore up the gap in satellite coverage. Here is how Orndorff reported it:
Federal budget cuts have blown a hole in the satellite program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Anticipated delays replacing a satellite mean the agency starting in 2017 will not have the kind of detailed atmospheric data that forecasters used to give Alabama several days' notice of the April 27 tornado outbreak. Without the extra warning time--which made people more alert of the potential for tornadoes and prompted school officials to close early--Bachus said the number of deaths in Alabama would have been much higher.
So Spencer Bachus admits that accurate weather forecasting saved huge numbers of lives in Alabama. But he still does not own up to his vote. Near the end of the article, Orndorff tells us this:
When Congress in April slashed $38 billion from the remainder of the current 2011 fiscal year budget, the NOAA satellite program took a big hit. President Barack Obama has requested slightly more than $1 billion for the satellite program in 2012, but even if it is fully funded, Lubchenco said the coverage gap is still likely when a temporary satellite ends its mission in 2016 or 2017.
The spending cuts were part of a compromise agreement reached to avoid a government shutdown, and all seven members of the Alabama House delegation, Republican and Democrat, voted for them, including Bachus.
"When you do across-the-board cuts, you throw out the good with the bad, the baby with the bathwater," Bachus said. "We need to fix this problem now."
In a roundabout way, near the end of the article, Orndorff tells us that Bachus voted for the spending cuts. (And oh, by the way, Democrats voted for them, too.) Notice that Orndorff never presses Bachus to explain his vote. She let's him say "we need to fix this problem now," without asking why he helped cause the problem in the first place.
If Spencer Bachus had any political courage, he would say something like this: "The most important issue for me in Congress is to toe the conservative party line and continue George W. Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. If that means we have to cut funding for weather satellites that help save thousands of lives, so be it. You've elected me to Congress 10 times to be a doctrinaire Republican, and that's what I'm going to be. If you want a representative who cares about protecting lives, you'll need to vote for someone else. Given that Democrats haven't run anyone against me since 1998, good luck with that."
Democrats now have an important issue they can use to unseat Spencer Bachus--or at least make him sweat a little bit. And Bachus clearly knows that he might have a political problem on his hands.
Alabamians need to be reminded that there is a price to pay for mindlessly electing conservatives to Congress. Does a Democrat have the guts to step up and remind them?