Senators Enzi and Sanders: What a difference

Written by Bruce Ticker

Mike Enzi opposes the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 workers sickened during the clean-up of the World Trade Center site. He was even accused of quarterbacking a campaign against the bill with a document that Carolyn Maloney called “a pack of lies.”

Bernie Sanders lent the Senate “a Mr. Smith goes to Washington moment” when he conducted a quasi-filibuster in a vain attempt to bring down the so-called bipartisan deal to retain tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

Two senators, two sharply different outlooks on public policy. Each represents the two least populous states in the country.

One could say that we never know what the system will produce. Actually, no. NBC’s Brian Williams suggested that Sanders’ speech was a “Mr. Smith” moment.

However, “a Mr. Enzi goes to Washington moment” is more predictable. Because of the system, each state is allowed two senators, which means the smallest state has as much clout as the largest state.

As it stands, many of the least populous states are conservative and more populous states are moderate to liberal. Vermont, population 621,00, is as liberal as New York or California, and one of the few states likely to be represented by someone like Sanders.

Dick Cheney isn’t exactly Enzi’s next-door neighbor, but they both spent most of their lives in Wyoming and are just about as conservative. Wyoming’s population, 544,000, is even smaller than that of the congressional district represented by Rep. Maloney, primarily Manhattan’s East Side.

The New York Daily News attributed to unidentified sources the claim that Enzi, ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, was behind the opposition to the Zadroga bill, which would spend $7.4 billion over 10 years to provide health care and pay victims.

The revenue would be raised from closing tax revenues on foreign corporations. Because Republicans were against employing this source for revenues, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, suggested other funding alternatives.

The News reported that the Republican document ignores their offers and labels the foreign tax provision a job-killer, and blatantly fabricates the claim that 95 percent of the workers were provided for in a recent $625 million legal settlement.

Only 10,000 people who sued, not the 30,000 who received some form of treatment, are covered by the settlement, the newspaper article clarified.

Calling these claims “a pack of lies,” Maloney said, “If these were legitimate concerns, why are Senate Republican leaders only raising them now, at the last minute, instead of years ago?”

Enzi would not respond to these accusations, but a week later he penned an op-ed piece in the News where he claimed that health-care providers that received federal grants for 9/11 health programs “have failed to tell Congress where that money has gone.”

In a follow-up letter to the News, Maloney and Jerrold Nadler (Ground Zero is located in Nadler’s congressional district) wrote that “Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”

Someone is lying. Based on their respective records, who do you believe?

In a Dec. 3 editorial, the Daily News employed phrases such as “distort the truth” and “torture decency” to describe Republican tactics. “They should stand at the graves of all those whose lungs were fatally destroyed, starting with NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who labored 450 hours at Ground Zero, and repeat the libel.” The bill was named after Detective Zadroga.

Bernie Sanders is no hero, but his Dec. 12 speech was special. Special because it is rare. If most or all senators were willing to speak out more than eight hours straight against an injustice, he would have had no need to do this.

President Obama’s deal with GOP senators to spend $700 million to extend tax cuts for the wealthy for two years – specifically, those couples earning more than $250,000 yearly – means $700 million less to reduce the debt or use for other pressing needs.

Sanders, the only senator to identify himself as a socialist, takes a straightforward approach to his job. He says what he stands for and works toward these goals. What he does is hardly heroic because it reflects the views of the majority of his constituents. He was doing his job, and he did his job exceptionally well on Dec. 12.

He wins the state by large margins, first every two years as Vermont’s only congressman a number of times and then in 2006 for his first term in the Senate.

He really does not need to walk a tightrope between competing constituencies, partly because of the state’s growing liberalism and its small population. Nearly half of Vermont’s population lives within 50 miles of Burlington, where Sanders was once mayor.

As a side interest, I like to study Jewish communities around the country. Of all small-town Jewish communities, Burlington and environs is hands-down the most interesting. It has been home not only to Sanders but also Madeleine Kunin, Vermont’s first female governor; Deborah Markowitz of nearby Montpelier, longtime state secretary of state and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 2010; ice-cream makers Ben and Jerry; folk singer Peter Yarrow; a gay assistant rabbi at Burlington’s only Conservative synagogue; former Gov. Howard Dean’s wife, a physician; and homosexual state lawmaker Jason P. Lorber, a native Philadelphian who is also a standup comedian.

Most of them are transplants to Vermont. Sanders was raised in Brooklyn.

From this environment, it is no surprise that someone like Sanders makes democracy come alive. In Vermont, he is surrounded by vital people like Lorber and Dean. Too bad he is in the minority in Washington.
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About the author

Bruce S. Ticker, a Philadelphia freelance writer.