There are ways to write a letter and then there are ways to write a letter. One way includes pleasantries, ideas, even artful persuasion. Another features anger, bile and bricks.
These differences were on display recently when two members of Congress wrote and sent letters of withering dissent. One, from Collin Petersen, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, to Speaker of the House John Boehner, was a two-page kettle of steaming contempt.
The other, from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, to the editors of the Wall Street Journal, was a tablespoon of honey-coated sarcasm.
Peterson, the 12-term Blue Dog Democrat from western Minnesota, sent his Jan. 3 letter to Boehner while still smarting from two weeks of shady, “fiscal cliff” maneuvering that left the nation without a 2012 farm bill.
Three years before, Peterson noted, Boehner had offered “noble words” on how he would operate the House of Representatives: “‘(O)penly, honestly and respectfully.’”
Those words “turned into empty promises,” because “the Republican leadership was nothing but a stumbling block” for Ag Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R., Okla., to get the completed, bipartisan farm bill to the House floor.
Worse, Peterson wrote, when the “fiscal cliff” bill was being negotiated, the same leaders “drafted alternatives in the Speaker’s and Majority Leader’s offices, bypassing both the Chairman [Lucas] and members of the Agriculture Committee and making a mockery of regular order,” the usual method to move legislation through the House.
And, warned Peterson, once a number-crunching CPA, don’t dare explain that move by saying “the votes were not there to pass the bill” because “(t)hat is patently false.”
He finished with a three-point flourish. First, he asked House bosses for “a written commitment” to bring any new farm bill to the floor if the Ag Committee delivers one. Second, House leaders need not worry about “finding the votes” to pass a farm bill; that “would fall” to Lucas, Boehner’s GOP colleague, him and committee members.
But, and third, Peterson concluded, “I see no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake the fool’s errand to craft another long-term bill if the Republican leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered.”
Most House Ag Committee members, Repubs and Dems, agree with Peterson’s assessment of Boehner’s role in the 2012 farm bill belly flop. None of his ag colleagues, however, chose to join him in his pasting of the Speaker, the gatekeeper to all legislative action and every member’s career.
Sen. Sanders’ note to the Journal — that objected to the paper’s endless opposition to wind subsidies — was a masterpiece of complaint: clever, direct, deadly.
The just re-elected Independent from the kingdom of Vermont opened by admitting he had “been trying to figure out what principle underlies [the paper's] opposition to encouraging the development of clean, renewable energy … “Are you really worried about budget deficits?” he asked, quoting the editorial’s words to the editorialists.
Gee, why then “While railing again modest incentives for wind energy, you say nothing of the more than $113 billion in federal subsidies that will go to fossil-fuel industries over the next 10 years”?
It’s not like big oil needs the help, he needles. After all, oil’s five biggest firms “made a combined profit of $1 trillion over the last decade.” And, oh, “While you’re at it, how about taking on the massive corporate welfare” of the last 65 years “for the nuclear-power industry,” Sanders suggests; it has received “more than $95 billion (in 2011 dollars) in federal research and development support.”
Need he mention coal and “their single-bid, sweetheart leases to mine federal lands without paying fair value in royalties to the U.S.,” too?
So, concludes Sanders, stop whining about tiny-by-comparison subsidies for alternative energy ideas like “wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other sustainable energy sources” that “could help us avoid planetary calamity.”
Which letter will have greater impact? Neither — if you don’t follow-up with one or two of your own.