Monday, when Sen. David Vitter sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar informing him the raise he’s seeking is a no-go until Interior begins permitting deepwater oil exploration at an acceptable rate, it seemed certain to get the Senator some attention.
And it has. Vitter figured he was starting a fight, and he was right.
Salazar fired off a letter yesterday to the Senate leadership, who are attempting to pass legislation to give him a raise from his Senate salary to that of what other cabinet secretaries are making (he was by law limited to his Senate salary since you can’t as a legislator vote to set the salary for a government position and then move into that higher-paying position as an appointee), whining about Vitter’s actions.
Dear Leader Reid and Senator McConnell:
I appreciate the good faith effort of Members of the Senate to make the salary of the Interior Secretary equal to that of other members of the Cabinet. However, I respectfully request that you set aside any effort to address this inequity.
At the Department of the Interior, our oversight and regulation of offshore energy production is – and will continue to be – guided by principles of integrity, the public interest, and much-needed safety and environmental standards. The public deserves nothing less.
These legal and ethical principles have always, and will always, guide me in all my work on behalf of the Department of the Interior. Yet, as the Senate has considered the disparity in Cabinet salaries relating to the Emoluments Clause, a Member of the Senate has taken the position, in writing, that his vote on the issue is dependent upon the outcome of his attempted coercion of public acts here at the Department. That position is wrong, and it must be made perfectly clear that his attempt cannot and will not affect the execution of the solemn legal responsibilities that the Department undertakes on behalf of the American people.
Salazar’s legal and ethical principles, in practice, have landed him in contempt of a federal court in New Orleans and put his department on the wrong end of an investigation which uncovered evidence he was complicit in perpetrating the fraudulent impression that his department’s moratorium on deepwater drilling was peer-reviewed by experts. Not to mention the frequent instances in which he’s been caught lying in public about his department’s activities
It is therefore laughable for Salazar to pretend that he’s doing the right thing at Interior. By any objective measure he has brought disgrace to that department. Since that disgrace largely involves the economic destruction of the state Vitter represents in the Senate, it’s fitting that Vitter would serve as his tormentor.
But with Salazar having thrown down the gauntlet in his letter, his Democrat buddies on Capitol Hill are now chirping at Vitter. Specifically, they’re casting Vitter’s statement that he would release his hold on the bill giving Salazar a raise once Interior starts issuing six deepwater permits a month as a bribe.
“This crosses the line. The bribery statute makes it a crime to offer anything of value to a public official to influence an official act,” a Democratic leadership aide told The Hill.
“Vitter is basically saying, ‘Do what I say and I’ll stop blocking this routine pay equalization measure for you.’ That sure sounds like bribery to me. It’s wrong; it’s unethical; it’s probably illegal.”
Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, paragon of ethics and equitable dealing that he is, echoed the scolding.
“I have worked with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on this issue for weeks,” Reid said in a statement Wednesday, “And it is wrong for Sen. Vitter to try to get something in return for moving forward on a matter that the Senate has considered routine for more than a century. “
“Ken Salazar is extremely well-qualified, hard-working cabinet secretary, and deserves better than to be strong armed while trying to do an important job for the American people.”
If the Democrats thought this was a big opportunity to score points against Vitter, they may have miscalculated. Vitter loves this controversy.
“I’m glad the secretary has dropped his push for a pay raise,” Vitter said. “It was truly offensive to Gulf energy workers who are struggling under his policies.”
“Now I hope he starts earning what he already makes and properly issues new permits for much-needed drilling in the Gulf.”
And Vitter’s press secretary Luke Bolar went one step further.
“I urge the Obama administration to prosecute,” spokesman Luke Bolar told POLITICO. “They’ll make fools of themselves in court and make my boss a Louisiana folk hero at the same time.”
Indeed. The point of blocking Salazar’s prospective raise was to call attention to the dysfunctional, destructive mess he’s made at Interior, and the more this controversy spins into the public eye the better for Vitter.
The Democrats might well think of Vitter as a pig. If that’s true, they might want to consider the old line about wrestling with one – you get dirty and the pig likes it. Reid, Salazar and Obama wouldn’t want to get slop on their nice suits, now would they?