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The principled man

Posted: August 13, 2014 at 5 a.m.

Until now, one always had to concede that at least Tom Cotton was admirably principled. He voted his economically libertarian and anti-government principles, like them or not. And he owned up to voting for those principles.

But now, alas, he has abandoned that laudable personal underpinning. He has retreated to garden-variety politics as usual.

He has done so in the matter of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

He voted against the hospital but won’t admit it. Thus he obfuscates in the style of any other politician saying whatever is necessary to blur issues and best serve his chance of winning.

The Cotton described in the first paragraph would say that, yes, as charged in a Democratic commercial, he voted alone in the Arkansas congressional delegation in February 2013 against an appropriation to re-up $330 million for graduate medical education at stand-alone children’s hospitals.

The Cotton described in the first paragraph would say the federal government is broke and that popular discretionary spending must be eliminated. He would say he adores the Arkansas Children’s Hospital but that tough cuts must be made. He would say the hospital could and would find another way to come up with $6.4 million or thereabouts for a graduate medical education program to develop pediatric specialists.

But the Cotton of the first paragraph has given way to the Cotton of the second paragraph.

This Children’s Hospital matter has put him off-balance from the beginning.

In April 2013, his office concocted that he voted against the appropriation because of a procedural failing—that the bill had not properly been through committee. But it had been through committee.

So now the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a television commercial, assaults him for the negative vote. And he replies that he, in fact, favored the Children’s Hospital money all along.

And, in more politics as usual, he tries to turn the issue back on Mark Pryor by faulting Pryor for sequestration cuts, including to children’s hospitals.

Pryor went along with those sequestration cuts to keep the country from defaulting on its debt. On other occasions, Cotton has said the sequestration cuts were appropriate and not onerous.

Cotton’s assertion of having voted in favor of the Children’s Hospital relies entirely on pointless votes. It is based on roll calls taken not to make law in good faith, but merely to score political points and provide political protection.

Cotton says he voted five times for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Most were on broad budget bills that had no chance of passage. Republicans ran them merely so they could get on record that they voted for budgets from which money for the Affordable Care Act had been excised.

The eventual effect of that kind of budget gamesmanship—indeed brinksmanship—was to shut down the government.

Now Cotton wants credit for voting for the Children’s Hospital in voting to stop the torrent of well-deserved criticism and re-open the government—the government that he and his overzealous right-wing allies shut down in the first place.

The fact is that there was one vote in the House, in February 2013, specifically to reauthorize the $330 million for children’s hospitals. The fact is that it passed overwhelmingly, 352-50. The fact is that the other three Republican House members from Arkansas, all but Cotton, voted for the money.

The fact is that the appropriation was opposed by the Club for Growth—also known by Mike Huckabee as the “Club for Greed.”

This Club for Growth is the extreme right-wing group—economically libertarian, pro-billionaire and anti-government—that seeks draconian reductions in government. And it is the group that loaded up the agreeable Cotton with bundled campaign contributions when he ran for Congress in 2012.

The Club for Growth says we need a new Washington filled with Ted Cruzes and Tom Cottons.

It appears that Arkansas voters must answer three questions:

One is whether they want to install in the Senate someone equated with Ted Cruz.

The second is whether they want to install in the Senate a man who has a voting record reflecting principles admired by a group like the Club for Growth.

If the answer to that is “yes,” then the third question is whether they can trust the declared principles of a candidate who casts those principles aside when the heat gets turned up in electoral battle.

This column could not have been written if Cotton had simply voted in the first place with Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin and Steve Womack and against the Club for Growth.

And half of this column could not have been written if Cotton had simply owned up to not doing so.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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