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Do They Actually Cast These Votes? Yes, Virginia, They Do!

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Lost in the kerfuffle over whether or not new Republican frontrunner Herman Cain's tax plan actually proves that he is the anti-Christ (as hinted by Michele Bachmann) was some much more serious business.

Members of the House of Representatives have been casting a string of votes of staggering recklessness and cupidity. The House voted to delay EPA's authority to regulate toxic air pollutants from cement kilns, but it also voted, in a virtual partisan lockstep, to defeat a series of amendments designed to retain at least minimal protection for the public health. The House voted 246-166 to prevent the EPA from limiting emissions from cement kilns even if the emissions caused learning disabilities or harmed brain development. It voted 253-166 to prevent the EPA from acting even if it was essential to improve children's health. It rejected several amendments that merely required Congress to admit that mercury and other cement-kiln emissions cause premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma, and brain damage. The House even voted, 254-169, to reject an amendment by Representative Henry Waxman that conceded that the rules, if allowed to go into effect, would reduce the amount of mercury deposited on land and water.

Then the House turned its machete to EPA standards designed to protect the public from toxic emissions from industrial boilers. Once again, when the Democrats proposed that regulations go into effect if they were essential to protecting health, Republicans voted them down. Even if these regulations were needed to prevent brain damage, House Republicans said, they should be blocked. Even if the nation's ten most polluted cities -- no way.

These are by far the worst environmental votes cast in any Congress in American history. Yet they are drawing almost no attention. And it's not because the public wants to be poisoned.

These votes were all cast at the insistence of the House Republican leadership, with dozens of House Republicans from districts where EPA protections are very popular (including districts carried by Barack Obama in 2008) going along with the Koch Brothers and polluting industries.

The Obama administration made it clear that it would veto this legislation if it ever arrived on the president's desk. New polling by CERES shows that the public strongly supports the EPA in its efforts to protect the public health. In fact, the CERES poll showed that 62 percent of Republican voters want Congress to let the EPA do its job. More striking, over the past year, as congressional Republicans and Fox News have mounted the most intense assault ever on the fundamental principle that the federal government should protect the health of all Americans, public support for EPA scientists as the right people to make decisions about pollution standards has increased.

The more Americans realize that the alternative to letting the EPA protect their health is to count on members of Congress or (even worse) polluting industries, the more they like the EPA. And voters are not alone. Over three-quarters of small business owners, the people in whose name the Republican leadership likes to attack public health protection, favor EPA regulations and think that they are good for business and jobs. In fact, polling shows that the public thinks that even the Obama administration is coddling polluters and exposing Americans to unacceptable health risks by slowing down the EPA's proposed new health standards for smog.

It's hard to avoid the impression that the media have simply abandoned their role as public watchdogs, and have settled down to just do "color commentary" like sports announcers. But at least on Monday Night Football, they give you the score!

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