The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


April 10, 2013

OUR VIEW: ‘Distracted’ rep missed a chance to advance policy

---- — We don't often dip our editorial oars into the factually challenged cesspool of the blogosphere, but a couple of recent online posts caught our attention because they concerned Mercer County Congressman Mike Kelly.

Bloggers from the Washington Post and MSNBC seized on a quote from Kelly’s press secretary Tom Qualtere to bludgeon Kelly and his fellow Republicans.

Qualtere was quoted in a lengthy and informative Post story about the bipartisan failure to follow through on 86,000-plus budget cutting ideas generated through public outreach by both the Obama White House and Congressional Republicans.

The story detailed how just a handful of cost-saving initiatives proposed by federal workers, the public and party leaders managed to make it through executive and legislative branch obstacles.

One of those ideas was to eliminate $380 million in loan guarantees to clean-energy companies. Kelly, the Post reports, was assigned to write the legislation.

That sounds like it would be right up Kelly’s alley. The car dealer turned lawmaker has been a leading critic of federal efforts to promote green energy, which he’s characterized as the government “picking winners and losers.”

“But,” the Post’s David A. Fahrenthold wrote, “nothing happened with that idea, because Kelly never wrote a bill. He got distracted.”

The Post quotes Qualtere: “It was a priority, and it remains an issue of interest. But Mike’s efforts shifted when he chose to focus more on holding the administration accountable with regards to (Operation) Fast and Furious. And then when the Benghazi tragedy occurred, that took the cake.”

Qualtere told the Post that Kelly may introduce the bill in this session but it’s “up in the air.”

“Now there are even more priorities and actions that he’s personally leading — such as the march against the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty,” Qualtere told the Post.

Qualtere should get points for honesty, but he may regret answering Fahrenthold’s question so frankly.

Post blogger Jonathan Bernstein mocked Kelly:

“Why not just say that his computer was down or that a dog ate his homework? At least those cliched excuses don’t imply what is really going on here: Republican politicians who believed that the job of a member of Congress is to be outraged, and once they’ve done that, they can pretty much go home.”

Over at MSNBC’s Maddowblog, Steve Benen wrote:

“A Republican congressman intended to work on a public policy he and his party take seriously, but ended up getting nothing done ... because some far-right conspiracy theories popped up ...”

While those criticisms are decidedly partisan – neither chose to highlight the administration failures detailed in the story – they are also valid.

We know a lot of Kelly’s constituents appreciate his forceful verbal assaults on the Obama administration’s policies and dogged attempts to expose its failings. We have, too, at times.

But we wonder how well they are served by those attention-grabbing moves – and how much those extra-legislative “priorities and actions” distract Kelly from the job he’s been elected to do.

No one expects Kelly to sit down and write a bill himself - that’s what staffers and industry lobbyists are for - or bury his head in the sand when he sees something going wrong.

But heated rhetoric and regular appearances on television are no substitute for the real work of a representative: developing legislation, casting votes and advancing policies that benefit the folks back home and the nation as a whole.

Kelly had a chance to make a real contribution on an issue he says he cares a lot about, but it looks like he decided there was a bigger percentage in playing politics.

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