As Americans get excited or annoyed by the latest Oval Office tweets or other outrages from President Trump, a dozen troublesome issues bubble through Capitol Hill like an attack of irritable bowel syndrome.
Maybe we need a “National Narrator” to focus our attention, someone with the grave, gravelly voice of Rod Sterling, who in a 1959 episode of “The Twilight Zone” introduced an episode by saying, “Witness, if you will…”
• A “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act” that enriches the wealthy at the expense of working- and middle-class households and future generations.
• A Congress revoking regulations protecting wildlife on national wildlife refuges.
Congress passed a tax overhaul that rewards corporations and the super-rich with promises of new jobs under a de-bunked theory, and Trump signed into law House Resolution (H.R.) 69, which repealed protections for animals in Alaska territory set aside to do so.
“When our government under earlier administrations managed these significant ecological areas designated as federal wildlife refuges, they were managed for the conservation of natural diversity,” says Joyce Blumenshine chair of the Heart of Illinois Group Sierra Club. Now, “powerful interests will harm many areas at a detriment to the survival of species and important ecologic balance.”
Ten other proposals that threaten the country remain alive, nine in House committees and one at the U.S. Supreme Court.
• H.R. 861 would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency: “For anyone who thinks that clean air and water protections and the many environmental regulations that have reduced public-health disasters from pollutants are not needed, they had best think again,” Blumenshine adds. “Without an EPA, we could see our skies look like the thick fog of pollution over China. Personal health costs will skyrocket. Our children will suffer – not to mention the future of this planet.”
• The Supreme Court is expected to rule in a few months on “Gill v. Whitford,” which says it’s unconstitutionally partisan for self-interested politicians to control redistricting. Cheryl Budzinski, chair of the League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria, says, “Gerrymandering gives incumbents unfair advantage in elections. That and money-in-politics discourages citizens from voting, running for office and civic engagement.“
• H.R. 899 seeks to terminate the Department of Education, and H.R. 610 promotes vouchers for public education: “I am not sure why the Department of Education continues to be targeted,” comments Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, superintendent of Peoria Public Schools. “It does not make sense. I would never support such a proposal. We talk about ensuring that America remains stellar amongst others; this would definitely weaken our gains. Let’s be reflective and think about this. There are 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, [etc.]. The Department of Education is the most critical; it feeds all the other departments with high-functioning, independent thinkers.”
As for the vouchers promotion, Desmoulin-Kherat adds, “I’m not afraid of competition, I just think it’s not fair. Public dollars are being routed to private schools, and they’re getting to pick and choose (students and most of the active parents). I don’t get to pick and choose. Is this voodoo economics [or] robbing Peter to pay Paul? This could lead to further segregation of our urban district. This is not a good move. Our families must know that we can’t run away from the opportunity to improve our amazing district. Our stakeholders know we serve all students with a myriad of rigorous courses, pathways and numerous other opportunities that could be difficult to replicate. The best secret in town is that we have amazing and incredible teachers.”
• H.R. 785 would create a national “Right to Work” law: Clint Drury, director of the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, says, “‘Right to work’ (for less) in any form is detrimental to working people, union and non-union alike. It is no coincidence that the states currently operating under ‘Right to Work’ laws have the lowest wages and worst working conditions.”
• H.R. 83 mobilizes against sanctuary cities: Jeffrey Johnson, president of the Peoria-area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, says, “The local chapter of the ACLU stands firmly behind the national ACLU’s statement – ‘Across the U.S., police have enhanced their ability to fight crime by deciding that they will not conduct irrelevant interrogations about immigration status while conducting criminal investigations. ACLU opposes congressional efforts to punish cities that have tried to improve public safety by taking common-sense measures to build community trust and ensure that crime victims cooperate with the police.’
“It is regrettable that the Peoria City Council, with few exceptions, have bowed to the bullying tactics of the Trump administration,” Johnson continues. “The mayor and majority of council members have allowed themselves to be fear-mongered into a status-quo stance. They have decided to bury their heads in the sand and make no attempts to stand firm against these unconstitutional threats.”
• H.R. 808 imposes sanctions against Iran: Jack Ryn, a longtime anti-war activist involved with the Peoria Area Peace Network, says, “We need enemies – whether real or perceived – to maintain our massive military budget, the obscene profits our weapons industry reaps, and our ever-growing national security machine. This realization enjoys bipartisan agreement.”
• H.R. 370 would repeal the Affordable Care Act: U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in his 30-page report “TrumpCare: Less for More” this year included a comment from Peoria’s Human Service Center, which said, “Repeal without replacement will redirect the response to the need from behavioral health organization like ourselves to overcrowd hospital emergency departments or local jails as a disposition for street officers who will be asked to respond to individuals who have no other options… Having no option for an alternative will create higher costs in other parts of the community/government system.”
• H.R. 354 would defund Planned Parenthood and H.R. 147 would criminalize abortion: Rosalie Howell of Peorians for Reproductive Health Care says, “Defunding Planned Parenthood will put millions of patients at risk who seek its often life-saving services, like cancer and STD screenings. It is downright inhumane. Criminalizing abortion wrenches a woman’s right to determine her own destiny by giving her decision making power over to the government – the very opposite of freedom.”
Political insiders say some of these bills will probably die in committee, but some could pass.
“It’s conceivable that these can pass, especially in an environment with unified Republican control,” said Louis Jacobson in Politifact.com. “Many of these bills address issues that President Donald Trump has advocated.”
And, after all, the unconscionable tax overhaul made it through Congress, as did the wildlife measure.
Increasingly, it seems like we’re in the Twilight Zone.