Courtesy of Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, millions of Americans have seen how a single United States senator can use procedural chicanery to prevent important legislation from moving forward. By withholding his “consent” from a resolution extending unemployment benefits to out of work Americans last week, Bunning prevented social security checks from reaching many thousands of people in need.
That fracas seems to have thankfully ended, but it does help shed light on another pitched battle between one senator and 99 others that is receiving considerably less attention.
The senator in question is Dr. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who has placed a similar hold on the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act which authorizes $40 million to post-conflict recovery efforts in Northern Uganda and directs President Obama to come up with a peace and recovery plan for war-ravaged Northern Uganda. Though the bill does not actually appropriate any money (that can only happen through the budget process) Coburn objects, in principle, to new funding unless it is offset elsewhere in the budget. Coburn, therefore, has placed a hold on the bill.
When Bunning used a similar method to block unemployment benefits from reaching thousands of workers on furlough, there was a huge outcry from Republicans, Democrats, and the public at large. Americans could easily identify with people in a tight financial spot that Bunning threatened to squeeze even further. They are our friends and neighbors who, through no fault of their own, are out of work and need a small amount of government support to get by. We can relate, in other words, to the victims of Bunning’s actions.
You don’t see the same public outcry about Coburn’s actions. Why? I fear because it’s much harder for us to identify with the victims of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army’s 20 year campaign in Northern Uganda. It’s easier to ignore people ike this:
These images come from the African Youth Information Network, a local NGO in Northern Uganda that aids victims of the the Lord’s Resistance Army’s campaign of mutilation of children in Northern Uganda. Thankfully, the war in Northern Uganda has largely subsided. The LRA, though, is still wreaking havoc in neighboring regions. Two weeks ago, the LRA sacked a town in south west Central African Republic and kidnapped 40 people (including, presumably, many children).
This is why passing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act is so important. It shows our solidarity and common humanity with the victims of the LRA’s campaign of terror and mutilation. It also demonstrates the United States’ commitment to bringing the LRA to justice.
So far, though, Coburn’s obstructionism has not received anywhere near the kind of attention as Senator Bunning’s similar actions. At least one group, though, is trying to tip the scales. A group of activists have been camped out at Senator Coburn’s Oklahoma office for the past 114 hours, simply to ask Coburn to find a reasonable compromise that would permit him to lift his hold on the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. Is that really not too much to ask.