Politics and policy in the news:
“Mr. Pryor … Mr. Pryor, ‘aye.’”
“Mr. Boozman … Mr. Boozman, ‘no.’”
The clerk of the Senate, the roll call on a procedural motion setting the stage for a vote on a Christmas present for the nation: something resembling a budget. Such division between Pryor, a Democrat, and Boozman, of the GOP, are hardly uncommon, of course. The more interesting split was among the Arkansans on the other side of the Capitol.
Only days previous the House had approved the budget resolution with Reps. Rick Crawford and Tom Cotton, of the First and Fourth Districts, respectively, voting in the negative; Reps. Griffin and Womack, of the Second and Third, joining the lopsided majority in favor. All four are Republicans.
Griffin is retiring after serving but two terms and can afford to shrug at any howls from true believers, while Womack is not only secure in his west-northwest district but benefits from a huge business community that is bone-weary of fiscal uncertainty in the District of Columbia. Crawford has no announced primary challenger on the right and very much would prefer to avoid one. Cotton, the presumed Republican nominee against Pryor next November, would very much prefer to retain the fervor of rank-and-file Tea Partiers and, as important, the favor of mega-dollar donors such as the Club for Growth, the Heritage Action Fund and their brethren.
One could see a rough parallel in other states, notably in the south, where GOP representatives are looking to move up. Texas, for example, where the wacky Steve Stockman is challenging Sen. John Cornyn. And Georgia, where six of the nine Republican House members voted for the budget deal. The three who opposed it all are seeking to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
With the Senate in Democratic hands approval of the budget bill is assured. Thus, as in the House, Republican senators who might personally believe the compromise a dandy idea but who fear an explosion on the right can “keep faith” with their more fevered constituents. And then privately assure their business communities, increasingly disturbed by Washington’s eyeball-to-eyeball fiscal goofiness, that they “would have been there” had their votes been necessary.
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When word arrives that an Arkansas native has made good elsewhere in the world the immediate impulse is to note that an Arkansas native has, well, made good. The fact is, however, that Anne Patterson, born at Fort Smith but long a resident of the world, had already made good, well before the U.S. Senate this week confirmed her nomination to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. It’s one of the very top jobs in the U.S. diplomatic firmament, and she assumes it in this, her 40th year with the State Department. (And on this vote, Sens. Pryor and Boozman were definite “ayes”).
Presidents of both parties have entrusted key postings in the planet’s hottest spots to Patterson — she’s been ambassador to El Salvador, Columbia, Pakistan and, most recently, Egypt, where she had to maneuver her nation’s interests through a little something called the Arab Spring. In her Cairo assignment Patterson took criticism from both sides, which, in the Middle Eastern milieu, means she was doing something, perhaps a great deal, right.
When posters appeared in the Egyptian capital demanding that Patterson leave the country (“Ogre go home,” in translation) for purportedly favoring former President Morsi, Secretary of State John Kerry defended her as “tough and committed,” a woman who works “in the most challenging places.”
It’s difficult to imagine a more challenging place than Washington.
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At a 2013 value of $1.4 billion the Arkansas rice yield certainly is big. But comes my way a gentle reminder that Arkansas agriculture is more than just rice. And rice was the only crop I mentioned recently in a column involving the export opportunities lost to Arkansas producers because of the dopey U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Likely that’s because Cuba has such an appetite for rice, and imports enormous quantities of it from as far distant as Vietnam (and at a higher cost than it would pay for the Arkansas variety).
Anyway, Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, notes that the Cuban palate craves corn and wheat, too, and — poultry!
All the more reason(s) to restore commercial exchange with Cuba. Fifty failed years of the embargo is at least 49, maybe 51, too many.
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Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and host of Arkansas Week on AETN.