Rhode Island is a great state with friendly, hospitable people. Sadly, Rhode Island has the highest unemployment rate in the United States at 9.0 percent. The state needs some help.
On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing in its ornate hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The subject was economic growth and tax reform, just the sort of help that Rhode Island needs.
Rhode Island has a senator who attended the hearing. When it was his turn to question witnesses, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse merely told a certain witness that she testified too often. He did not ask her about policies that would help Rhode Island. Essentially, unhappy with the message, he attacked the messenger.
It is difficult to understand why a senator from Rhode Island might not like a message of lower taxes (Rhode Island has high taxes) and more economic growth (Rhode Island has little).
But Senator Whitehouse was worth between $2.5 million and $8.6 million in 2012, according to his financial-disclosure forms compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Perhaps he is untouched by the economic malaise of Rhode Island and out of touch with its residents.
This is not the hospitality one expects from a resident of the Ocean State, much less its senator.
Ironically, the messenger he attacked has written five books and hundreds of articles and has served as chief of staff of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and as chief economist of the Department of Labor.
It is no wonder she is invited to testify so often, especially since job creation is of primary concern to Americans. Over the past 20 years, she has testified on subjects such as the employment effects of the Affordable Care Act and energy policies, the unemployment crisis for younger workers, different proposals to stimulate the economy and create jobs, the theory of comparable worth, immigration reform, and the minimum wage in American Samoa. Her testimony is all online, available to anyone who wants to read it.
Perhaps such a messenger might have some ideas of interest to the residents of the state with the highest unemployment rate and, not coincidentally, some of the higher taxes in the country.
Senator Whitehouse cannot simply wish Rhode Island’s economic problems away, nor can he simply wish away unfamiliar economic advice.
Economic ideas that can help Rhode Island stand on their own intellectual merit. Those ideas will not be silenced. Not by personal attacks. Not by grandstanding. Not even by the state’s own senator.
The victim of Senator Whitehouse’s attack is a woman. Shoot the messenger, perhaps because she is a woman and it is fair game to attack women. One can only wonder whether Senator Whitehouse would have dared attack a man with similar credentials.
Ironically, Senator Whitehouse’s attack came on the day feminists have proclaimed to be Equal Pay Day, the day they say women’s earnings catch up to men’s. This is what Democrats say they want — women involved at the highest levels of government.
Senator Whitehouse pretends to support women. “We owe it to the hard-working women of the United States, especially in these difficult economic times, when every penny of every paycheck counts, to continue to fight for equality,” he says. He might be for equality in theory, but when a woman is invited as a witness before one of his committees on Equal Pay Day, he complains that she testifies too often. (Just as Senator Whitehouse tried to intimidate the female witness, by the way, he is leading the effort to have the Internal Revenue Service clamp down on the free speech of 501(c)(4) organizations.)
Senator Whitehouse, Rhode Island has a long history of treating people equally, fairly, and civilly. The next time I appear before your committee, I hope that you will treat me with the civility that ordinary people receive daily in Rhode Island. I have visited Rhode Island and experienced its hospitality. I have ideas that may help the people of Rhode Island. I am happy to discuss them with you and your staff. A serious discussion will go more toward helping solve Rhode Island’s problems than your ad hominem attacks against me.
— Diana Furchtgott-Roth is senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.