Cohen Gives Congress an 'A' for 2009

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Cohen at prayer breakfast
  • JB
  • Cohen at prayer breakfast
Calling 2009 “the most historic year of Congress ever,” 9th district U.S. Representative Steve Cohen cited a series of legislative milestones Friday as the keynote speaker at city councilman Myron Lowery’s annual New Year’s Prayer Breakfast at the airport Holiday Inn Select.

Among the achievements listed by Cohen were: the Lily Ledbetter Law, mandating equal pay for women in the marketplace; hate crimes legislation, and credit card reform. Cohen said that Congress, acting with the White House, had “kept the economy from going off the precipice” with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Though he acknowledged some dissatisfaction with the Senate’s version of pending health-care legislation, the congressman devoted some time to toting up what he regarded as the better points of the likely bill, including the elimination of prior-illness restrictions on health-insurance coverage, provision for more community health centers, and extending coverage for dependents to the 27th birthday.

Cohen lashed out at congressional Republicans for their virtually unanimous opposition to the health-care bill. “The Republicans want to beat Barack Obama, They want to do anything they can to beat this president,” he said. “They want the White House, and we are not going to give it to them.”

While Cohen offered praise in general for the first year of the Obama administration, he said he had reservations about the degree of support he should give the president’s policy in Afghanistan and asked for guidance from his constituents so he could “make the right decision” for his district. “It’s difficult to put money into war when you’ve got problems at home,” he said.

Among his personal initiatives during the last year, Cohen listed his sponsorship of a bill authorizing a study of infant mortality and his proposal for a Fair Employment for All bill which would prohibit using credit scores to deny employment. He promised that appointments of a new VA administrator locally and a new U.S. attorney were imminent.

Cohen also said coyly that he had a “suspicion” that President and Mrs. Obama would be visiting the district in the near future. That, of course, would be a boon for his reelection bid, though he did not say so. When asked after his speech, the congressman was also somewhat reticent about making forecasts concerning his forthcoming primary contest with former Mayor Willie Herenton.

As usual, the Cohen wit got a workout. At one point, commenting on the fact that Senate was “working” on its version of a labor bill, the congressman cracked, “I know that sounds like an oxymoron,”

And, early in his remarks, commenting on Thursday’s victory by the University of Tennessee basketballers over the University of Memphis, Cohen said, “UT may have beat the University of Memphis at Memphis, but when they play the University of Memphis at Lexington, they’ll get beat.” That, of course, was a reference to the mass migration of Tiger recruits to the University of Kentucky along with former UM coach John Calipari.

On a more serious note, Cohen paid tribute to “my friend” John Wilder, the venerable former Tennessee lieutenant governor who died at Baptist Memorial Hospital East early Friday after suffering a stroke. In addition to his tribute to Wilder as such (see story), Cohen said that Wilder’s death, at 88, had in one respect been a blessing.

“After his stroke, he would not have been John Wilder,” Cohen said. “He would not have been able to walk. He would not have been able to talk. He wouldn’t have been able to ride his bike. That wouldn’t have been John Wilder.”

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