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I Write My Senator

The Honorable Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) 511 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

May I call you "Rick"? Having received so many letters from you these past couple of months, I feel we should be on a first-name basis. Even though these letters were most likely penned by staffers, you signed off on them, so I must infer their content reflects your own thoughts and beliefs regarding the issues raised.

The internet is a wonderful thing. The reason I received all those letters from you in the first place was because of the issue-driven bulk e-mail distributions that reach my inbox each week, from various groups promoting particular legislative agendas, offering one-click links to our specific Senator and/or Congressman to express our views. While the agendas of these “e-mail rings” tend to be extreme left-liberal in most cases, they nevertheless provide a valuable service by encouraging constituent advocacy in a user-friendly manner. You don’t have to necessarily agree with the views of the sponsoring organization – you can express your own. So I click the link, express myself in the box provided, then send. A week or so later, your generic response arrives in my mailbox, a result in turn of the generous franking privileges a US Senator receives, courtesy of us taxpayers.

However, Rick, I must say that, most of the time, the response I receive from you is gibberish that has little if anything to do with the issue being raised, or when it does, is exactly the opposite response that I would expect or desire. Let me offer just a handful of the most recent examples out of over a dozen received in the last four months:

Example 1: To my comments concerning the lowering of federal gas taxes as a hedge on the spike in gas prices, you sent me a letter dated July 13th. In it, you evaded my questions entirely, in lieu of an impassioned speech on how you valiantly resisted the “Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century” (TEA-21), and instead helped lead the fight to pass the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act” (SAFETEA). Your proudest goal in this was to insure that PA would now receive back from the feds $1.07 in highway spending for every dollar paid in by PA residents, as opposed to the $0.97 spent/dollar of tax paid proffered in the original bill. You metaphorically puffed out your chest and declaimed: “This [$1.07 received for every dollar contributed] is an important benchmark for our state, because it is essential that the Commonwealth remains a “donee” state rather than a “donor” state.”

“Essential”? I never understood the logic behind this attitude that we must rip off another state’s taxpayers to disproportionately benefit our own state, and I never would have approved of sending anyone to Congress with that singular goal in mind. In fact, Rick, it is expensive and bureaucratic to take gas tax money collected in the state, pour it in the DC pot, then let them dole it back out again as they see fit, forcing you to engage in power plays on the Senate floor to ensure your constituents don’t get screwed. Isn’t this a profound waste of your time? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more efficient just to let PA keep all gas taxes collected in PA to use for road improvements as PA sees fit, without the high-cost federal middleman? You can blather on about the Fed’s role in “regulating interstate commerce” as an excuse for maintaining the status quo, but frankly, I imagine that most Pennsylvanians just want to see the potholes fixed, and encourage the truckers to take a nap now and then, so they’re not a navigation hazard.

Example 2: On July 19th, you subjected me to a litany about all the issues surrounding the pending CAFTA treaty, and your unqualified support for it. Now, admittedly, I am ambivalent about this issue, as I don’t think NAFTA or the WTO has done us any favors, and yet another “free trade” agreement that serves only to export more US jobs and artificially maintain a cheap labor force in Latin America for the benefit of your large corporate campaign donors, would not seem to serve the best interests of your own constituents, particularly in a state that literally defines the term “rust belt."

However, that’s not why I wrote you about it. My only concern with CAFTA was the “fine print” language that binds all parties to a serious consideration of the United Nations-backed CODEX standards for nutritional supplements, standards that have no basis in sound medical science, and look as though they could have been written by the big pharmaceutical companies. If those standards were applied in the US, the multi-billion dollar nutritional supplements industry would be thrown out of business, as US citizens would be forced, for example, to get a doctor’s prescription for Vitamin C in greater dosages than 100 milligrams or so. You never even commented on this insidious intrusion into the health care choices of American citizens.

Example 3: Not willing to let you go on the “supplements” issue, I fired off an additional e-mail to ensure you got the message. Your response (also dated July 19th – I guess it was a good day for bulk mail) was, again, characteristically evasive. You stated that dietary supplements are “not approved by the FDA for safety and effectiveness” (probably a good thing, as the FDA does not have a single testing lab), and encouraged all users of supplements to “consult with a healthcare professional” (I won’t go into the appalling lack of market-based healthcare solutions here). You then, however, went way off track and began to lecture me on Anabolic Steroids legislation, DHEA (currently not labeled as a steroid), and pending legislation in committee that seeks to change this. Again, there was no coming down on one side or another by you regarding the supplements industry in general, or American’s freedom to make their own choices regarding health care.

Virtually all your response letters are heavily laden with “buck passing” comments, i.e. “I am not a member of the Senate XYZ committee," or “This is before the House currently, and I am not a Congressman.” Well, why should you get off so easily? I am confident you have the names of those key Republican Senate committee members, along with influential House Republicans, right there on your speed-dial. A few phone calls to the right people would go a long way, even if only to get yourself educated on the issues at hand, and would certainly be the right thing to do by your constituents. If you’re not on a particular committee, then, OK, take a few committee members out for dinner and cocktails and figure out what’s going on, before whatever it is they’re doing hits the full floor. Do the same with key Republican congressmen.

Example 4: In a surprising development, in a letter dated August 1st, responding to my views on the Estate Tax, you actually painted yourself into a corner. You stated that “Senator John Kyl of Arizona introduced S. 420, which would permanently repeal the Estate Tax.” As you are a member of the Senate Finance Committee, you have no excuses in this regard. I expect you to come down in support of this bill, with no reservations whatsoever. As you recently published a book on family values, I would expect you to practice what you preach, and allow families to recover from the devastating loss of a loved one by removing all federal tax intrusion into the deceased person’s final wishes for his/her estate, thus ensuring greater security for their designated heirs. In fact, why don’t you push for repeal of the Marriage Penalty, as well?

Because of people like you, Hillary, Schumer, and Feinstein, I am unshakably convinced that the worst constitutional amendment ever passed in the 20th century was not the 16th, as many believe, but rather the 17th, which allowed Senators to be elected by popular vote. While the system enacted by the Framers – that of having Senators elected by State legislatures – had its share of flaws, it still more or less required that a prospective Senator show a little honest statecraft in the course of a lengthy political career at the local and state levels, before being elevated by their peers to that august position. Today it’s all about pandering to special interests with big bucks, and fooling half the voters into believing you are smarter than your opponent. You don’t even have to live in the state you represent for any length of time to establish local credibility. Just ask Hillary. If the 17th had never passed, it is doubtful that the majority of the Senators presently sitting would have ever gotten their jobs.

Bottom line, Rick, most of what you write me is self-serving, fatuous nonsense, perpetuating the notion that only well-connected, sanctimonious bottom-feeders are best suited for a political career in the USA. But I must admit to a certain guilty-pleasure entertainment value, as it gives me a deeper insight into your thought processes. I only hope you don’t have a taste for “higher office," as your career to date is yet another proof of the Peter Principle in action.

Now, while we’re at it – what about getting our troops out of Iraq?

Warmest Regards,

Your constituent, "Tom" Marshalls Creek, Monroe County, PA

August 24, 2005