Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 26, 2010

IT'S NOT JUST THE BUGS THAT STINK.... The Washington Post ran an item the other day that, at first blush, doesn't seem especially political, but is worth considering in a larger context.

The issue is the spread of the brown marmorated stink bug through the mid-Atlantic states. They're harmless to people -- the don't bite, sting, or carry diseases -- but for the first time on the continent, they're doing significant damage to crops, ornamental shrubs, and trees. And as homeowners are discovering, as the bugs begin moving inside as temperatures drop, "when squashed or irritated, the bugs release the distinctive smell of sweaty feet."

The insects reached the U.S. in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, apparently as stowaways in a shipping container from Asia. Now they're spreading, they have no known natural predators, and there's "no easy way to kill lots of the bugs at once." Complicating matters, "the invasion is only going to get worse."

So, where's the political angle?

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican who represents Maryland's rural 6th District, sent a letter Friday, signed by 15 members of Congress, asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to take immediate action to limit damage caused by Halyomorpha halys.

Of the 15 members who signed the letter, eight of them are Republicans -- all from states between West Virginia and New Jersey, and all fairly conservative members of the GOP caucus. The group of lawmakers are looking for "coordinated federal government assistance" from the Obama administration to help farmers and local economies deal with the bugs.

In particular, the 15 lawmakers are eyeing a proposal to reclassify the species under federal guidelines to expand regulatory authority over the bugs.

In other words, faced with a environmental problem, the first instinct from conservative Republican politicians is to ask the federal government to do something. Indeed, they're specifically asking for federal bureaucrats to sweep into action and use expanded federal regulations to help people.


There seems to be a bit of disconnect here between Republican ideology and real-world problems. On the one hand, conservative lawmakers like Bartlett hate "big government," the EPA, federal regulations, and government bureaucrats. This year, plenty of GOP candidates are talking about eliminating the EPA, firing parts of the federal workforce, scrapping regulations, and slashing spending on various agencies.

Shouldn't conservative lawmakers, right about now, expect the free market to offer a solution to the stink-bug problem? Why hasn't the GOP offered everyone a tax credit for fly swatters and facemasks? Why aren't Tenthers running around demanding to know where, exactly, the Constitution empowers the federal government to deal with an insect infestation?

As it turns out, the EPA, USDA, and scientists at a variety of regional universities (remember, conservatives generally approve of neither scientists nor universities) are working on possible solutions. Hopefully, they'll be successful.

In the meantime, let this be a reminder to all of us -- the federal government can and does play a vital problem-solving role in American public life. Republicans know this, even when they pretend otherwise.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Your tweet got my attention, but the content is spot on.

And don't forget Republicans in the Midwest who want federal relief for flooding, rebuilding and prevention.

Posted by: Mike K on September 26, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

You're absolutely right, Steve. What the Founders would have done is place bounty on stink-bugs, a couple of cents for each corpse brought to the county seat. We need to start sending all those Congressmen and Governors as many stinking bug corpses as possible, hoping they'll get the message!! I'll start today.

Posted by: JohnMcC on September 26, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Terrific point, Steve, easy to communicate to swing voters angry at the Democrats but uneasy about GOP nihilism. I'd love for the Democratic leadership to create a message around stink bugs and the importance of government but I ain't holding my breath.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on September 26, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

"a bit of disconnect here between Republican ideology and real-world problems."

On the One Hand: "Stimulus a dismal failure!"

On the Other Hand: "Please, sir, can I have some more!"

Posted by: DAY on September 26, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the read Mr. Benen. It seems for Conservative Tea partying Republicans, government intervention is only good for two instances - this bug thing, and oh yeah, a woman's womb!

The lack of any reasonable outlook on our society, environment and planet in general seems to be the biggest blind spot for the privatizers among us these days! Until Conservative Americans can rediscover that place in their hearts and minds - you know, the common good - our political culture will suffer greatly! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on September 26, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

They might look for birds like crows to help with this problem, but their problem is crows are black...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on September 26, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Five'll get you ten they want the Gov't to lift the ban on DDT to take care of the beetles (even if DDT doesn't work on the beetles).

Posted by: martin on September 26, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

The real reason that the repubs wouldn't let the Defense Authorization bill come to the floor was that Harry Reid wouldn't let them add an amendment financing the purchase of 504 Lockheed-Martin F-57 Bugbasher stealth attack planes, along with a supply of Demarmorator air-to-ground missiles. It's only a 2.8 trillion dollar program, after all, and they can pay for it by cutting taxes on the rich. And the program would create jobs (in China, were the planes would be built,) plus a tiny amount of profit for Lockheed-Martin, who generously would donate some of that money to various (republican) campaign funds. A win-win!

Posted by: Tim H on September 26, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Dear Mr. Bartlett:
In an effort to address smaller government, we cannot help you at this time. Please check your Sunday newspaper circular for specials on Raid.
Dept. of Agriculture

Posted by: mmm on September 26, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

This. This is why Political Animal is the first and the last place I check every day.

Also, great comments -- esp. mmm's.

Posted by: stinger on September 26, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

mmm's comment @10:48 WIN! Absolutely perfect.

Posted by: Athena on September 26, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

>In particular, the 15 lawmakers are eyeing a proposal to reclassify the species under federal guidelines to expand regulatory authority over the bugs.

The right-wingers on the Supreme Court have been striking down a lot of this regulation nonsense, so I'm sure they'll stick up for the bugs.

Posted by: Morbo on September 26, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

These are the same types who grandstand about wasteful spending; they wave reports on grants for basic scientific research because the titles seem amusing--studies of the reproductive habits of certain insects, for example. This is the very information that is needed to develop plans for the control of invasive pests.

Posted by: Tired Liberal on September 26, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: c u n d gulag on September 26, 2010 at 10:31 AM
Posted by: mmm on September 26, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Beautiful!!! I laughed so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks!

Posted by: Schtick on September 26, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

The federal government shouldn't get between me and my exterminator. My freedom is being diminished.

Posted by: TeaBaggerSmith on September 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

And if Obama and Reid had any political courage or instinct, they would find a way to squeeze the Repubs on this.

Alas, they have neither.

Posted by: coloradoblue on September 26, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

No hypocrisy here at all. Stinkbugs are obviously inconveniencing white people. It is the proper function of government to make sure that white people are never inconvenienced. That's in the Bible. Somewhere. Isn't it?

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on September 26, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

And remember when Michele Bachmann said the US government should seize some privately-owned ships to help with the BP oil gusher?

Posted by: Hannah on September 26, 2010 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Stowaways from Asia? Thereya go, they crossed our border illegally therefore the fed has to do something. Perhaps we could round them up and teach them hygiene so they may not smell like sweaty feet.

Posted by: flyonthewall on September 26, 2010 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

One wonders how many EPA nominations are languishing, unconfirmed, due to (Republican) secret holds or filibusters...

Posted by: exlibra on September 26, 2010 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Don't be silly. There is no disconnect. Its WAR ON STINKBUGS. Its right in their wheelhouse. Also if you give money to some corporation to devise a multi-million-billion $ strategy to defeat stinkbugs, it can't be given to "those people".

Posted by: Ransom on September 26, 2010 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

We don't need no stinking science to get rid of the stinking bugs, we got an anti-stink prayer for sunday go meeting.

Posted by: cwolf on September 26, 2010 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

Aside from the good political point in your post, I just wanted to mention (by way of Huffington Post) that chickens really love stinkbugs. I experimented with it this weekend and found they were correct, my chickens fought over the little buggers. Of course, I had to catch the bugs in a receptacle first, so it's a little time consuming.

Posted by: GrammyPat on September 26, 2010 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised that those Republicans didn't seek help from Tom Delay. Maybe he's too busy dancing.

Posted by: josef on September 27, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Here are some helpful tips on how to protect your home from stink bugs: http://bit.ly/a7PARu

Posted by: JoeMac on September 27, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK



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