fresh voices from the front lines of change







Last week, as Congress opened its new session, two regular Joes - Sen. Manchin of West Virginia and Vice President Biden of Delaware - gave a hand to Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, who'd suffered a stroke a year earlier.

Joe and Joe assisted Sen. Kirk in climbing the 45 Capitol steps to take his seat once again in the Senate chamber. It's what every regular Joe in America does. They help their co-workers, family, friends and neighbors.


Similarly, Americans believe their government should help when necessary. When the task is too big for a couple of Joes to achieve, Americans want their government to step up. Disaster relief is such a task. Republicans just don't get this. The GOP uses government to hurt Americans, not to lend a helping hand.

That's what the GOP did last week. The majority of Republicans in the U.S. House - 64 percent - voted against extending tax breaks for working Americans.

Those Republicans voted to raise taxes on - to hurt - 99 percent of Americans, most of whom badly need the tax break as a result of the Great Recession, the decline in housing values and the decade-long stagnation in wages. Those Republicans also voted to wound the American financial system, which needs workers to have money so they can spend it and revive the economy.

But that's just the beginning. Those Republicans in the House, who constantly claim to be so very worried about deficits, also voted to spend more money - that is, more than the $1.5 million already wasted - defending discrimination against gay people.

The Republicans gave additional payments to attorneys who will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to immortalize the inequitable Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA has been struck down by lower courts. The Obama administration has deemed DOMA unconstitutional. And the majority of Americans oppose it, particularly those in three states that approved same-sex marriage in referendums last fall.

Before the 2012 legislative session expired, Republicans found the time and money to put that hurt on gay people. But Republicans just couldn't make the time or find the money to help the hundreds of thousands of East Coast residents devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

They didn't care to give a hand to the storm-ravaged Americans still without electricity or sleeping on cots or striving to rebuild without promised federal aid.

Finally, on Friday, three days after deciding to further finance discrimination against same-sex couples, Republicans in the U.S. House got around to voting to provide a tiny fraction of the aid needed by Sandy victims - an additional $9.7 billion.

Here's the kicker: although the measure passed, 67 House Republicans voted against the aid for storm victims whose houses were flooded, wind-whipped or burned to the ground.

GOP House Speaker John Boehner stalled until Jan. 15 a vote on the bulk of the $60.4 billion in aid that the Senate had approved during the 112th legislative session last year. If Republican House members actually approve the relief then, two and a half months will have elapsed since the worst storm to hit the East Coast in decades, one that killed 130 Americans and caused more than $82 billion in damage.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said after Boehner closed the 2012 legislative session without calling a vote on the aid package:

"When American citizens are in need, we come to their aid. That tradition was abandoned in the House last night."

Americans give a helping hand. But not House Republicans.

House Republicans also spurned another group of blameless victims - women who suffer violence. The House GOP refused to approve a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which the Senate passed last April.

Here's why House Republicans oppose reauthorizing the law credited with reducing the number of both women and men killed by domestic violence: the new version extends protection to immigrants, Native Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. The House Republicans have made it clear they don't want to help MORE people. So they passed nothing at all - no help for abused women!

After Boehner blocked a vote on Sandy relief on New Year's Day, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said it illustrated "why the American people hate Congress." But that statement is too broad. Half of Congress, the Democratic-controlled Senate, had passed the legislation.

And Americans know that it's Boehner and his band of GOP House members that have repeatedly refused to help. Voters demonstrated that knowledge and their disdain for that GOP philosophy when they elected more Democrats to the House last fall.

When Boehner waited until the last possible second to prevent the country from falling off the fiscal cliff, the New York Times wrote this about him and the House Republicans:

"The unwillingness of Mr. Boehner's caucus to join such decisions for the common good suggests that the 113th Congress. . .will be bitterly unproductive, and possibly even more dangerous than the last Congress."

On Thursday, before the 113th Congress opened, the third Senator who stood with Republican Kirk at the bottom of the Capitol steps, ready to help, was majority whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat.

Republicans didn't even help when it was one of their own.

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