Congressman Joel Hefley, a big booster of government spending at Colorado Springs military installations, wants to kill a federal program that has helped build libraries, health clinics and wastewater treatment facilities in Appalachia.
Hefley last week proposed an amendment in Congress to cut the program's 2005 budget from $38.5 million to $10 million, with the goal of eventually eliminating the program entirely.
The program, known as the Appalachian Regional Commission, was created in the 1960s as part of the Johnson administration's War on Poverty. Its goal is to promote economic development in the crushingly poor region of Appalachia, stretching from Mississippi in the South to parts of New York state in the North.
Hefley derided the commission as "redundant" and ineffective, claiming it has done little to boost economic development. "It's time to phase out this program," he declared.
The proposal met strong resistance from Appalachian representatives.
"That's just wrong. It's crass, and it's craven," fumed Congressman Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat.
Rahall said the commission "has dramatically improved life in Appalachia" by contributing to infrastructure such as wastewater storage and treatment facilities and programs to increase college attendance.
Hefley's amendment "will undo all those efforts" and harm the people of Appalachia, Rahall said. "This amendment would pull the rug out from underneath them."
Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, called the commission a "tremendous force for progress" that has helped fund libraries and health clinics and given 800,000 people access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
Hefley ultimately offered to withdraw his amendment.