Lee Terry Is An Irresponsible Twitby Kyle Michaelis
Two months ago, I wrote about Lee Terry's political stunt, playing games with essential federal funding for the city of Omaha to advance his self-serving partisan agenda. At that point, Terry had neglected to request any earmarks for his constituents using the silly excuse that he could not do so under newly-imposed ethics requirements by the Democratic Congress.
At the time, David Obey, the Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, gave all representatives a one month extension to get any concerns addressed to the point that they could make requests with confidence of their ethical propriety. In that month, Terry's fellow super partisan stooge, Adrian Smith, decided to do what was best for his 3rd District constituents rather than continuing to play this partisan game with their best interests. Terry, however, was just stubborn, stupid, and self-centered enough to persist in this intelligence-insulting gambit jeopardizing a number of essential projects in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District.
The Omaha World-Heard reports:
Earmarks are special provisions that individual members of Congress attach to spending bills to direct federal money to specific projects.Lee Terry has just told the people of Omaha that he doesn't give a damn about their concerns. Driven by either paranoia or political ambition, he's given up any pretense of true representation. By adopting this new philosophy of "Go talk to Ben," Terry has completely turned his back on his own constituents, demonstrating a total lack of character and courage without any sense of responsibility or shame.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln and Iowa Rep. Steve King, both Republicans, are among this year's earmark seekers. Rep. Adrian Smith, a rookie with barely four months on Capitol Hill, sought earmarks on behalf of Nebraska's sprawling 3rd Congressional District. But not Rep. Lee Terry.
The Omaha Republican said he was too worried about those ethics rules, which require lawmakers to certify that they have no financial interest in an earmark.
Terry said he was afraid that House Democrats might attempt to show that he stood to profit from one of the earmarks.
Terry has shown little hesitation in the past about seeking federal funding to finance city sewers, local university research and other projects.
This spring, The World-Herald examined two sets of earmarks by Terry and other Nebraska congressmen: to fund construction of an Interstate 80 interchange in rural Sarpy County and to subsidize an Omaha business, 21st Century Systems Inc., as it tries to develop computer software for the Defense Department.
Terry, who received campaign contributions from people wanting earmarks for those projects, vigorously defended his role in both instances.....
Democrats, who won control of Congress last year, instituted new ethics rules, including ones on earmarks....
Terry said others seem to be willing to take the risk of submitting requests, but he isn't. He said he needs to be above reproach because he previously spoke out in favor of reforming the earmarks process.
Terry also said there was considerable confusion over the rules. He said his staff was told informally by ethics committee staff members that an earmark to pay for sewer separation projects in Omaha could be interpreted as a financial interest for him, because it might affect property taxes on his Omaha house.
He also said the Democrats controlling the House seem driven to find violations of the policy: "This is truly the most vicious 'gotcha' atmosphere I've ever seen," Terry said.
Others described the new rules as simply an attempt to provide transparency in the process as well as guidance to congressmen.
The rules make it clear that there has to be a direct and foreseeable benefit to a congressman before there is a violation, said Brian Svoboda, a Washington attorney who primarily advises congressional Democrats on ethics rules.
"They were not intended to preclude members from doing anything to help their constituents through the appropriations process," Svoboda said. According to the rules, a financial interest would not include "remote, inconsequential or speculative interests."
The rules encourage lawmakers to seek advice from the ethics committee if they are worried that specific earmarks could represent a financial interest.
Terry previously released the list of earmarks he had planned to ask for, including $6 million for a project to separate waste and storm water sewers in older parts of Omaha.
Typically, only a fraction of the multimillion-dollar requests are awarded; the city has been receiving about $500,000 a year for sewer separation.
Still, losing a half-million dollars a year could stall the efforts, said Paul Landow, chief of staff to Mayor Mike Fahey. Landow said Terry has been supportive in getting that money before, and the city hopes Terry will reconsider ending his support....
Nebraskans can always hit up their senators, Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Chuck Hagel. Nelson sits on the Appropriations Committee, which wields a great deal of influence over how federal funds are doled out.
"Lord Nelson will be their savior," Terry said. "'Just go talk to Ben' - that's what I'm telling them."
Nelson, who also owns a house in Omaha, submitted a request for the City of Omaha sewer separation money, said his chief of staff, Tim Becker. Nelson signs statements that say he has no financial interest in his earmark requests, Becker said.
A Hagel spokesman declined to comment, but Hagel previously has talked about how appropriations are the result of the state's entire delegation working together....
Becker, the Nelson aide, also cited the importance of having support from other members of the delegation. "Those projects that have support in both houses stand a better chance of getting funded," he said. "They're not going to give you what you don't ask for."
No one can say exactly what game Terry thinks he's playing. But, one thing is certain - he's screwing over the city of Omaha in the process. This is a man who just last year thought of himself as next in line to run for statewide office, yet who's now so scared of his own shadow and so conscious of his weak political position that he's gone from being a very poor representative to one who is absolutely pathetic.
A number of new nicknames for Terry quickly come to mind. Lee "Off Duty" Terry? Lee "Talk to Ben" Terry? How about Lee "Fire Me & Give Someone Else a Chance" Terry?
Seriously, Omaha couldn't do much worse than what they've got. That realization started to sink in last fall when insurgent Democratic challenger Jim Esch shocked Terry with the closest race of his career on a shoestring budget. Right now, Terry has just admitted that the Second District is without representation and doesn't have a voice in the House. Thanks to Terry's cowardice, all they have is Ben Nelson - a powerful ally who still can't possibly make up for Terry's incompetence.
Nebraska's Second District deserves so much better, despite the voters' repeated mistake sending this cowardly incompetent back to Congress. 2006 demonstrated that more and more people are waking to the need for change, and they'll have that chance again in 2008.
Ultimately, Omaha doesn't need to look to "Lord Nelson" to be its savior. By getting rid of Lee Terry, the voters can save themselves.