Our AWOL Congressman 

Editorial

Given Harold Ford Jr.'s peculiar voting pattern in recent weeks (last month, he voted in favor of the Bush administration's bankruptcy bill), the congressman's failure to vote at all for the budget measure passed by the House last Friday might be considered by many Democrats -- who are the majority in his district -- as something of a plus. That Republican budget, of course, includes clauses that pave the way for oil drilling in parts of the Alaskan wildlife refuge, as well as a new round of tax cuts balanced on the backs of the poor, who in turn get huge cuts in Medicaid and other entitlements.

The budget was passed by a narrow 214-211 margin, with Congressman Ford one of just 10 members who failed to show up for the vote. The congressman told The Commercial Appeal that his absence was the result of "a previous commitment to be in Tennessee" on the night of the budget vote. He did not mention that that commitment involved attendance at Tennessee House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's Coon Supper in Covington, a city outside the boundaries of his Ninth District.

It is no secret that Ford has set his sights on Bill Frist's Senate seat in 2006 and that his quest for that position is currently taking him far and wide across the state. Fair enough. But when his attempts to further his political career involve failing to register a vote on a critical measure in Congress on behalf of his Memphis constituents, he does every citizen of the Ninth District, Republican or Democrat, a disservice.

Let us clarify somewhat the nature of this disservice -- in which Ford, to be sure, had company. There were 10 absentees; six of them, besides our own congressman, were Democrats. Presumably, a majority were opposed to the budget. If Ford and the others had been in Washington to cast a vote, the budget would have presumably failed.

Alternatively, if Ford -- who prides himself on his accessibility to the folks across the aisle -- had been there and had been able to talk a single Republican into a change of heart, the vote would have been tied.

By such action -- and inaction -- is history made.

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