Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley
The shiny new U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who with a Republican label represents Arkansas’ expansive and politically diverse 4th Congressional District, isn’t making friends within the national media and what remains of the liberal media in Arkansas.
Seemingly before his arm fell to his side after taking the oath of office, Cotton was branded as “callous” based on his vote against sending $10 billion to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. An opinion writer for The City Wire has called Cotton a hypocrite for his opposition to former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination by President Barack Obama to be the next Secretary of Defense. It’s only a matter of time before Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart skewer the Yell County farm boy.
Cotton is callous with respect to any concern he has about what the media says about him. He’s one of the most single-minded, fervently-focused politicians I’ve watched in my more than 20 years of observing this form of Americana.
Let’s first note a few practicalities when analyzing Arkansas’ newest Congressman. This analysis is not complicated. There are one of three political considerations ruling the mind of Tom Cotton.
• He’s convinced he has a mandate from a safe majority in Arkansas’ 4th District to go extreme on addressing the nation’s deficit.
• He knows the big fiscal conservative donors who contributed to his virgin campaign demand he go to the extreme on addressing the nation’s deficit.
• He is counting on enough re-election dollars from the big donors to deliver enough voters in 2014 to counter the onslaught of negative national media.
Win or lose the next election, Cotton will likely have a D.C. job following the 2014 election.
On the Hagel nomination, Cotton should pipe down. The U.S. Senate gets to consider Hagel, not the House. Cotton’s play on this smacks of a grandstanding public relations move by a D.C. insider – a label Cotton campaigned against.
But on this Hurricane Sandy thing, Cotton and his colleagues provide insight into the strategy of hardline fiscal conservatives.
When the national media says he and the 66 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against Hurricane Sandy funding don’t care about their fellow Americans, Cotton doesn’t wince. He eagerly owns his vote. He makes no attempt to parse words. His angle is that the vote is a matter of perspective. In the short-term, they did turn their backs on millions still trying to recover. In the long-term, they posit a claim of attempting to help millions of Americans avoid the obligation of a growing national debt they did not incur.
The national media did not broadly report that Cotton and the 66 other Republicans simply wanted the $10 billion to be offset with spending cuts. In the annual federal budget, $10 billion is just short of an accounting error. Was an offset impossible?
Instead, the national media made (and continues to do so) a full court press to demonize anyone who voted against Hurricane Sandy funding. The apparent goal is to characterize as heartless these Congressmen who voted against the funding; to kill the concept of compassionate conservatives. But with each commentator who refers to him as “Callous Cotton” the value of the vote is increased in Cotton’s mind.
If we are able to move past the emotional reaction of a vote against helping folks slammed hard by an historic hurricane, we are able to consider Cotton’s possible motive. Could it be that his true motive is that every dollar spent must be accounted for? What if that is Cotton’s simple but hard-core approach? What if he devoutly believes that the tough-love politics of saying, “No,” when emotion would suggest otherwise is the best path to restoring fiscal sanity to this country?
What if Cotton believes the way to federal fiscal sanity is to follow a tough-love funding system similar to Arkansas’ budget process?
In Arkansas, we have Democrats and Republicans of all stripes who praise a revenue stabilization process in which program funding is prioritized and funded only when revenue meets certain levels. Programs in the “A” category get first priority, then there is the “B” category, and if revenue continues to come in, state officials begin funding “C” category authorizations.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has noted often during his wildly popular term as governor that tax cuts must be associated with spending cuts, or that increased spending must come with dedicated revenue. Arkansas legislators who seek more spending or less revenue are – without demonization – asked to propose more revenue or less spending, respectively.
If we separate ourselves from the emotion and partisan posturing that drives messaging out of Washington D.C., we may find room to wonder if “Callous” Cotton’s vote on Hurricane Sandy funding simply seeks to mimic the fiscal philosophy of an Arkansas government that each year balances its budget.
Maybe so, but no one in the 4th District lives in a hurricane zone.
But then again, if we don’t get this federal fiscal mess corrected, we’ll all live in a disaster area.