but thanks to the blogosphere he won't.
Sen Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tried to dump a $140 million Illinois white elephant, the Thomson Correctional Center, on federal taxpayers with a bizarre but revealing political trick: He's holding up the reauthorization of an obscure federal agency that is designed to protect religious liberty around the globe. Until he gets the federal government to buy out this near-vacant state prison, he's put a hold on the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Now, I'm not particularly convinced that we need a government agency to monitor violations of religious freedom around the world (e.g. China's persecution of religions) but some people do, including Congress, which established this agency. And if Congress does not approve of $4 million annual funding for the agency by Dec. 16, it will have to shut its doors.
The commission staff already is preparing for the shutdown because Durbin is using a legislative privilege called a hold on the commission to leverage the federal purchase of the Thomson prison. Shawn Zeller, of CQ magazine, blew the whistle on Durbin last month and now the word of his goofiness is racing across the Internet. As she noted, "There is no direct connection between the two topics. The commission was created by Congress 13 years ago to make policy recommendations on how to deal with foreign regimes that deny their citizens the right to worship."
Even Michelle Boorstein at the Washington Post weighed in:
What’s interesting to me as someone who has watched the commission in recent years is the relative silence among members of Congress and the public in general about the possibility that this place might close up. This comes in a pre-campaign season in which religious conservatives in particular are calling assaults on religious freedom in the United States and abroad one of their top issues (note Rick Perry’s new ad, on that front). It comes with concerns rising about the health and safety of religious minorities in places from Iraq to Egypt.
To many Americans, the importance of a Washington-based commission may no doubt seem questionable in a struggling economy.
However, having covered USCIRF, I believe the lack of attention to this has at least a little to do with the controversies that have swirled around the commission and the fact that even some religious freedom advocates feel the cause is better furthered in other ways, that the place is not money well spent. They note the tension that exists between the commission and a similar office at the State Department. They note the fact that commission members have long been accused of focusing too much on the persecution of Christians and not enough on smaller religious groups. In fact, the commission is facing an open lawsuit charging its leaders with discriminating against a Muslim employee.
Interestingly, the latest push to save USCIRF is being led by a small Muslim-American advocacy group, the American Islamic Congress. In a letter to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, who is reportedly holding up a vote on one of the bills to reauthorize USCIRF, the Muslim group called the commission “an essential conduit for collaborative work between the U.S. government, foreign governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and acts as a vital resource and beacon of freedom to people of all faiths.”
Even Comedy Central found reason to comment on this clown.
Zeller further noted:
The Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison near the Mississippi River town of Thomson, was built by the Illinois government for about $140 million a decade ago but hardly used because of staffing issues. Durbin, according to advocates for the religious groups that are the commission’s most ardent supporters, wants Congress to come up with the money to buy the prison and make it a federal facility, and he has put a hold on the reauthorization bill until that happens. His leverage could be that Rep. Frank R. Wolf , the Virginia Republican who sponsored the legislation creating the commission in 1998, chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds federal prisons.
Yeah, it would be nice if Illinois could get rid of this white elephant, which the Obama administration once thought about using to house terrorist detainees. But it's just one more of Illinois' failure of governance that the prison was built and now can't be staffed because there is NO MONEY.
Come on, Dick, even for you this is a bit far.
Hat tip to McHenry County Blog.