Congress finally passed legislation responding to the Flint water crisis yesterday as Michigan’s Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, hammered out an agreement to bring relief to the residents of Flint and other cities that have been victimized by the tragic mix of crumbling infrastructure and neoliberal economics that poisoned Flint. The bipartisan package includes $70 million in subsidies for water infrastructure projects, $100 million in subsidized loans to assist states with contaminated water supplies, and $50 million for public health programs.
The deal would have been passed much sooner were it not for the obstructionism of noted looney snowball-wielder and climate-denier Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who in a cruel irony is the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The triumph of the deal was muted by Senator
Snowball Inhofe, who released a remarkably ignorant and hypocritical press statement blaming President Obama for the water crisis:
The media’s attention to Flint has put a spotlight on the crisis we face across the nation due to a failure to address aging water infrastructure. As a result of misplaced priorities of President Obama, who has consistently failed to partner with the states to address our nation’s real needs, stories are emerging in East Los Angeles, Baltimore, communities across Ohio, and elsewhere about lead pipes and other infrastructure problems that put the health of our citizens at risk. In my leadership role on the EPW Committee, I have watched the Obama administration prioritize more than $120 billion for the president’s global warming agenda at the expense of real investment in critical infrastructure
So much is wrong with this statement that it’s hard to know where to start. To put the blame for the mass poisoning and the ten deaths it’s caused on President Obama, who was completely uninvolved, is nothing more than pure slander from a right-wing that misses no opportunity to slander the President. As convenient as it is for Republicans to blame Obama for everything that goes wrong and completely ignore everything he does right, it is dangerously cynical and demagogic politics. Indeed the Republican base has been so thoroughly brain-washed by this Obama slander that they will blame him even for things they know he had nothing to do with.
The charge is especially cynical given that the actual culprit of the crisis is readily identifiable in Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, whose neoliberal tax cuts and corporate handouts blew such a big hole in the budget that he had to order Flint to change its water source to the polluted Flint river in order to save a few bucks – the overwhelmingly poor and African-American residents of the city be damned.
Moreover, while the nation’s infrastructure needs are certainly dire, it is in fact Congressional Republicans who have, over and over and over again and for the most selfish and frivolous reasons, blocked Democratic bills hoping to invest in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The results of this overwhelming failure of leadership are truly astounding: according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the United States will lose 870,000 jobs and $3.1 trillion in economic output by 2020 as a result of a failure to invest in infrastructure and real household income will fall by some $7,000. And this is on top of the lives needlessly cut short when bridges literally fall down or trains run off the rails.
The massive and tragic toll of the nation’s infrastructure woes clearly rests squarely on the shoulders of Congressional Republicans like Inhofe, and yet he has the gall to blame President Obama. The short-sightedness of so many conservatives seems to make it impossible for them to understand the true costs of any issue that isn’t literally and spectacularly visible, and their refusal to fund infrastructure – like their climate denial – is a deadly function of their myopia.
Inhofe’s statement also contains the insidious notion that solving America’s problems is a zero-sum game: if we spend money to combat the effects of global warming, which, regardless of Inhofe’s delusions, will kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, then we can’t possibly invest in our infrastructure. While this may be the case in the obstinately anti-spending fantasy that conservatives inhabit, it is not how reality works in the world’s most powerful country.
Then there is the typical Republican schtick about the supposed infallibility of “the states” despite the fact that it was the Michigan state government, and its neoliberal policies that are the ultimate desire of the “state’s rights” advocates, that was directly responsible for the Flint crisis. While the lies, deception, and hypocrisy of Inhofe’s statement are far from surprising, it is a scathing indictment of the American political system and the Republican Party that such a man could be nominated to lead, of all things, the Environment and Public Works Committee.
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James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.