Longworth at Large

“Burr’s Lame Duck Leadership”
If you stick around in Washington long enough, you build up seniority and get to chair committees, providing that your political Party is in power. That’s what has happened to Senator Richard Burr. Burr was first elected to Congress from the 5th District in 1995, then moved to the upper chamber in 2005. For most of that time he has remained largely invisible to his constituents and to the main stream media, but all that changed recently when he began to preside over a series of hearings conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Thanks to Comey, Flynn, and the Russians, Richard Burr is now one of the most visible politicians in the nation. TV news anchors, pundits, newspaper editors, and even leading Democrats are now heaping praise on Burr for his fair-minded handling of these high profile soap operas. And so, the senior Senator from North Carolina has suddenly become America’s poster boy for bi-partisanship. The problem is that his new found fans have a short memory.
Burr has consistently voted in lockstep with his fellow Republicans on every major issue. In doing so, he has received a fortune in donations from industries whose products and services have brought hardship to millions. He has voted against tax cuts for the middle class while supporting tax cuts for his industry donors. He opposed employment opportunities for veterans, supported the privatization of Medicare, and has voted to confirm every Trump Cabinet nominee. And, he has enriched himself while those he serves have seen their incomes drop or remain stagnant.
In addition to chairing the Intelligence Committee, Burr also sits on several other powerful committees, including one which has oversight of the FDA, Medicare, and Medicaid. But instead of using his position to help people, he has voted with the interests of the industries he should be helping to regulate. Reporting for STATnews.com, Sheila Kaplan points out that some 200 companies located near Burr’s hometown, are in the business of developing or manufacturing drugs and medical devices. It should come as no surprise, then, that these companies gave Richard over a million dollars for his last re-election campaign. In return, Kaplan says that Burr has pressed for lower taxes on Big Pharma. Meanwhile, Richard has also received big bucks from the insurance industry, and in return, has opposed ACA, voted to privatize Medicare, and refused to come down on Blue Cross for price gouging. As a result of his partisan votes and positions on these matters, millions of people can’t afford the costly drugs they need, won’t seek proper medical attention, and can’t pay their rising healthcare premiums.
Speaking of partisanship that harms people, Burr has refused to support even the most basic, common sense gun reforms. Rob Schofield of The Progressive Pulse, reported that in 2016, Burr voted against a bill that would have required universal background checks, and limit sales of guns to known terrorists. Why? According to Becky Ceartas, director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, Burr’s votes were a quid pro quo for the $800 thousand dollars he received from the NRA. Said Ceartas, “Burr chose not to put safety of our families first, pushing that aside to demonstrate (his) loyalty to the gun lobby.”
Back in 2003, partisan Burr supported President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and once he knew that we had invaded the wrong country, did nothing to advocate for withdrawal. The result was the death of over a million innocent Iraqi civilians and thousands of American troops. To add insult to injury, the veterans who returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan faced an unemployment level of nearly 11%, yet according to a report by Jon Erickson of WCTI-TV, Burr voted against a bill that would have created a job corps meant to employ veterans as firefighters and police officers.
And if all that isn’t partisan and self-serving enough for you, consider Burr’s vote on a bill called the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act, better known as the STOCK ACT. The bill would have prohibited members of Congress from trading on and profiting from insider knowledge of the stock market. Sean Galitz of CBS.com reported that the STOCK ACT was the result of a “60 Minutes” investigation which “exposed how members of Congress and staff legally traded stocks based on nonpublic information that they had exclusive access to.” Richard Burr voted against the bill. Why? Galitz suggests it was because Burr held stock in a number of companies who were “lobbying for several energy and regulatory bills that he co-sponsored”, and that those companies had donated nearly a half million dollars to Burr’s campaign. Burr’s vote was also suspicious because of his increase in wealth since coming to D.C. According to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Burr’s net worth in 1994 was $189,000. By 2014 it was over $2.6 million. That’s an increase in net worth of 500% during a period of time when, according to Ballotpedia.org, the average American household net worth increased by less than one percent.
All of this makes Burr’s recent fame as a bi-partisan leader just a bit hard to take, especially for anyone who has been negatively impacted by his numerous quid pro quo votes over the years. Yet Richard seems to be wearing his new found mantle well. In fact, he looks down right relaxed and statesmanlike with a gavel in his hand. The reason? Last year Burr announced that he would be leaving the Senate after his current term expires. No longer is he worried about raising money, trading on insider information, or answering to lobbyists and industries who have scratched his back. He’s made his millions and when he steps down, those of us whose interests he voted against, will pay him a full pension with benefits.
Believe it or not, I remember a time when elected officials of both parties acted like statesmen from their first day on the job, and never compromised their ethics or their votes for political or personal gain. They were individuals who arrived in D.C. with very little wealth and no agenda, and they left the same way. Richard Burr is finally coming into his own as a statesman, but it’s only because he’s a lame duck who’s already come into everything else.
Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today” which airs Saturdays at 7:30am on abc45 (cable 7) and Sundays at 11am on MY48 (cable ch. 15) www.triadtoday.com.

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