So now South Carolina Republican Senator James DeMint has decided to shut down the Senate over the next three months unless he and his staff have personally reviewed any and all legislation. DeMint announced that he will put a hold on all bills, which essentially will mean taking a week to overcome his obstructionism: even if all other 99 Senators support a non-controversial bill, because the Senate runs on unanimous consent, DeMint will require a cloture vote to consider the bill, which means 30 hours of debate, and then another cloture vote to allow debate on the bill, which means another 30 hours of debate. That’s what a “hold” is: it’s a threat to make yourself a royal pain in the rear unless you get what you want, and DeMint is very good at that. And now, being just a pain means defeating the legislation, because there is not much time in a lame-duck session.
In other words, Jim DeMint has decided to remind everyone in the country that he is an Extremely Important Person, and thus play to the rabid GOP base. What he doesn’t want you to know is that his little hissy fit will have real consequences to real people.
Consider a bill like S.384, the Casey-Lugar Global Food Security Act, a piece of legislation that is close to my heart: I just got back from DC to lobby for it on behalf of the American Jewish World Service, and found that Congress probably won’t be able to take up the bill in the lame duck session because Jim DeMint has decided to remind people that he is an Extremely Important Person. And so the bill will die. (To assist in bringing it up again in January, please consider contributing to AJWS’ efforts here: that’s my fundraising page, and the money raised there goes to food security efforts.).
By way of background, a recent United Nations study reports that more than 925 million people worldwide suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition.
925 million starving people? Shouldn’t we do something about that? You don’t understand: Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person.
Casey-Lugar would (among other things) create an emergency fund to purchase food in countries where starvation is at its worst: as Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman observe in their recent spectacular book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, in many countries suffering from hunger, farmers have food but can’t get it to starving populations, and in any event, current US law forbids purchasing food on site, delaying distribution by several months and impoverishing developing country farmers. Most importantly, Casey-Lugar would begin to shift US aid policy away from just giving food to people toward making the poor self-sufficient by allowing for US assistance to develop agricultural capacity in the Global South. For example, as Thurow and Kilman show, Ethiopia has made great strides in recent years toward food security by creating an agricultural futures market that stabilizes agricultural prices, allowing farmers to make a profit but keeping prices at more affordable levels. Casey-Lugar would enable more experiments of this kind, and authorize (although not appropriate) $7 billion in funding for it and for the emergency fund. A good short backgrounder can be found here.
An agricultural futures market like the Chicago Board of Trade? That’s hardly socialist. Who could be against that? Well, you see, you don’t understand: Jim DeMint is an Extremely Important Person. Casey-Lugar is not an earth-shattering piece of legislation: at this point, it doesn’t seem even to be all that controversial. It even has two Republican co-sponsors in the Senate (Lugar — of course — and Susan Collins). It passed the Foreign Relations Committee — which DeMint sits on — unanimously.
Well, maybe Jim DeMint will see all of this, and will deign to allow the Senate to take up the bill. Or maybe not. After all, Congres still has to take up all 12 appropriations bills, which of course the Republicans could also filibuster. And who knows how many other good, small bills will die because Jim DeMint wants you to know that he is an Extremely Important Person.
DeMint claims he is a Christian: I have no idea, but I take him at his word. Conceivably, hundreds of thousands of people in the Global South could die because of the failure to pass this pretty non-controversial bill. Theoretically, aren’t Christians supposed to be against that? Well, maybe so, but these people aren’t nearly as Extremely Important as is Jim DeMint.
How about this, Senator? Every time you come into a room, a band will play Hail To The Chief. That seems to be really what is interesting to you. The rest of us would like to act like adults. In the meantime, if you want to try to make sure that DeMint has as little influence as possible in the next Congress, you can drop a few dollars here.