Forgiving one Republican, but not another

Taking the week's most ham-handed Republican congressmen in order of prominence, we ought to be able to agree that Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, deserves a pass, but that Rob Woodall of Georgia does not.

Cantor, asked about an emergency supplemental appropriation to get recovery money to rebuild Joplin, Mo., said yeah, sure, maybe, but that first we'll need to find some offsetting cuts in the budget.

Democrats, enjoying a heady week, indeed a heady month, ran over themselves to say that we cannot attach strings to our human compassion in such a heartless way.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, said Cantor ought to join her in Joplin. She wondered what he'd say if the worst tornado in decades had stuck a population center in his district.

It was fair enough of the Democrats. Republicans can't go around leveraging every essential isolated action -- raising the debt ceiling, helping the people of a tornado-destroyed town -- for spending deductions.

Some things you do simply because you must and because they are right.

You don't tell your family that Grandma won't get a casket for burial until you find savings in the household budget.

She has passed on. You care about her. You care about your grieving relatives. Of course you ante up for the casket. You put on a fine funeral. Then you come home and get out the checkbook and calculator and start worrying about saving money.

Cantor was the relative who said out loud what other family members were thinking -- that, you know, we really need to get hold of our expenses while we're looking at the price tags on these caskets.

Inevitably, his reasonable and sensitive kinfolks would call him down. They would tell him Grandma deserves respect and that the casket warehouse was neither the time nor the place.

Cantor's remark was neither the time nor place.

Otherwise, he's right. So-called "pay-go" or "pay-for" rules, by which additional spending must be paid for by mitigating reductions, have long been given lip service in Congress. They need to be adhered to strictly. But human tragedy and human emergency are not the right places to get strict.

Woodall, on the other hand, has no excuse other than breathtaking insensitivity.

At a town hall meeting in his Georgia district, a woman asked him what she was supposed to do for health care if her employer dropped her coverage and then Medicare was gutted. So Woodall asked her to listen to herself -- to her presumptions that somebody, either her employer or the government, ought to take care of her. He asked her: How about taking care of yourself?

Actually, old people tend to lose the ability to take care of themselves -- to earn money, to manage money, to navigate the private marketplace -- at the very time they become more regularly ill and thus require more medical attention.

This predicament was the very point of Medicare, which took up where the private insurance industry didn't really want to go. Insurance companies like premiums from healthy people, not claims from sick ones.

So the woman asked Woodall why he didn't give up his free government health insurance provided members of Congress and get out there to fend for himself in the private marketplace to which he would dispatch her with her pre-existing condition.

He told her it was because his insurance was free and that he'd go to Walgreen's and pick up an arthritis pill he didn't even need if the pill was free. (For the record, congressional health insurance is not free, but it is very low-cost, two-thirds subsidized by taxpayers and quite deluxe.)

Actually, there is a way to let Woodall practice what he preaches. It's up to the voters of his district. They could stop his freeloading in one day of voting.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@