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.