Utah's congressional delegation rejects the latest version of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act

“Let us continue to strive to complete the work we have before us to bind up the wounds of the nation and to care for the one who will have borne the battle, as well as his widow and his orphan.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

The United States is good at financing war—the Defense Department's current annual budget is $841.4 billion—but not so good at helping those harmed by it.

Members of Congress who vote against a weapons program risk being labeled unpatriotic.

But propose compensation for service members who became ill from Agent Orange in Vietnam or from burn pits in Iraq, or first responders who became sick and died from contaminated air at the World Trade Center site, and some can only complain about the cost .

Witness that Utah's entire congressional delegation opposes the latest version of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Utah Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee shamefully voted against the bipartisan bill, which passed the Senate on March 7 by a vote of 69-30. They said the estimated $50 billion over the bill's six-year lifespan was too much.

Utahns should contact their representatives – Blake Moore, Celeste Maloy, John Curtis and Burgess Owens – and demand that they support the new RECA. The fact that none of them are behind this now is appalling.

RECA first became law in 1990, spearheaded by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. It offered compensation to people in Utah and several other states who suffered from the exceptionally high number of cancer cases associated with the wind direction of open-air nuclear weapons testing from the Trinity test in 1945 through the 1960s.

The many thousands of people affected are referred to as downwinders. They are victims of war, of the Cold War, as well as those who were maimed or killed in battle.

They have carried the battle. However, they didn't volunteer, didn't wear uniforms, and, like the rest of us, were lied to by their own government about how dangerous these tests really were.

The original RECA applied only to those living in a small number of counties, significantly underestimating the continent-wide spread of radioactivity, and only to those suffering from certain diseases. It also did not include anyone in other parts of the country exposed to radiation from the mining, refining and storage of nuclear materials.

The proposed expansion of the law would address these deficiencies and increase the benefit per person from $50,000 to $100,000. Which isn't much for a case of terminal cancer.

It's the least we can do. But Lee and Maloy and others don't want that at all.

They just want to extend the existing, inadequate RECA, which expires next month, for another two years. It's as if some in Congress want to wait until everyone in need of help has died.

You'd think a bill to support Americans harmed by their own government – the dreaded Deep State – would be right up Mike Lee's alley.

But Lee also rejected expanding aid to Ground Zero first responders. Lee and Romney both opposed legislation to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering the effects of toxic burn pits, counting pennies against human lives.

Yes, all of this costs money. But we shouldn't look at it as an expense so much as what it really is: a debt we owe.

It may be difficult to evaluate teachers and vouchers, but we must do our best

Cost-benefit analysis is not always a clean task.

Consider the accountants who recently told their bosses on the Utah Legislative Audit Subcommittee that a new program aimed at retaining teachers by giving the best of them bonuses of up to $10,000 isn't working suitable for an “objective” measurement.

TRUE. But many things in life are a choice. This often includes the grades that teachers give their students. Including salary increases elsewhere in government and the private sector.

The Utah Education Association has viewed the plan with skepticism, arguing that teachers should work together and not jostle for limited resources.

Perhaps. But competition is a fact in the real world. And our educators should be so professional that we don't see the English teacher undercutting the math teacher who badmouths the Spanish teacher.

And we should trust that parents, school leaders and other stakeholders will take the process seriously and seize the opportunity to reward the truly inspiring teachers among us.

Our teachers make more money, and the best teachers make the most. Achieving more public school spending, in whatever form, this legislative session should be considered a victory.

So does the fact that the program also increases pay for teachers in what the state considers “high-poverty schools,” where the challenge is greatest.

The only way to find out is to try this bonus program. Put the auditors back on it in five years and we can hope to see what, if anything, it got us.

These same auditors should also keep a close eye on the first allocation of the Utah Fits All voucher program. If the law allows it.

The program provides households with up to $8,000 per child — up to $82 million in total — to use on anything that smells like education. Not just private school or homeschooling, but also ballet lessons or therapy.

The point is that there are few standards and no measures of success. It's largely a front in the culture war to deny that public money should go to public schools.

But some of the families who benefited feel they were given a much-needed chance to help children who they felt were failing in public schools.

It's good that all of the first year's grants went to families that meet the definition of low-income – $60,000 a year for a family of four. That already wealthy households do not receive reimbursement for attending private academies or country clubs.

This is a program that simply begs to be reviewed thoroughly and often. Republican lawmakers who generally favor monitoring government spending should insist on it.

Anna Harden

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