The debate over the stimulus package has produced its share of maddening moments, but also a few nuggets of dark humor. On Friday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse proved himself quite the accidental comedian while arguing against Tom Coburn’s amendment barring any emergency stimulus spending on aquariums, swimming pools, and beautification projects. Whitehouse objected to the notion that planting trees wasn’t a legitimate emergency action, and somewhat ironically scolded Coburn for presuming to tell Whitehouse’s state how to spend its money:
Is the Senator who offered this so infallible? Does he know so much about other States he has never even visited that he can impose his views? I would never dream of suggesting that I know more about towns and cities in Oklahoma than the local political establishments of those towns as to what is wise. I really think that that is a mistake.
If a city needs tree planting and that brings real jobs and it puts people and their trucks and their trees and their nurserymen to work, and if it provides shade, and it provides greenness, and if it absorbs carbon, and if it engages in traffic calming, there are all sorts of good reasons why people would want to do that. Why is it necessary for one Senator to tell the city of Providence that he knows better, having never visited?
The comedy practically writes itself here. Barack Obama and the Democrats insist that we need infrastructure spending to keep roads and bridges from falling apart, but Whitehouse wants to spend it on trees. He then goes even further by challenging Coburn for keeping the emergency stimulus spending focused on emergencies by claiming that the states know how to spend the money better than Congress. Great! Then can we agree to outlaw pork, since Congress has no understanding of how states should spend the cash granted by federal fiat? If Providence likes trees, let them spend their own money to plant them.
But Whitehouse’s paean to trees takes the cake. He never does explain why that money couldn’t get allocated through the normal appropriations process, or why trees in Providence are a matter of federal import. It recalls another famous and more poetic tribute to trees by Joyce Kilmer, which apparently needs an update: