Texas Tea Party Town Is Dying of Thirst

Parched residents of Kemp, a small East Texas city whose water mains keep crumbling in the season’s record heat, told local reporters at the height of the emergency this week, “According to the weather forecast we got no relief coming. We’re believing and we’re praying for rain.”

So the good people of Kemp face two problems, no rain and no money, which has left them with two equally ineffective solutions. They can indeed pray, which no doubt would win them the approval of Texas Governor Rick Perry and their local congressman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) — or they can petition the government for infrastructure assistance, which neither Hensarling nor Perry would approve under any circumstances.

The plight of a place like Kemp illustrates the much broader problem faced by villages, towns and cities across the United States: a decaying infrastructure that a decadent political class won’t rebuild because that would require raising tax revenues. Transportation, water, sewer, health and education systems constructed by earlier generations that ought to have been upgraded years ago have been left in disrepair, and today the consequences of such conduct are coming due. Texans like Hensarling and Perry tend to mock places like New York as high-tax hellholes, but at least when you turn the tap, clean water still comes out.

But as the beleaguered citizens of Kemp must be well aware, since they keep electing him, Rep. Hensarling – just appointed as one of three House Republican members of the deficit-cutting “Super Congress” panel – is firmly opposed to any increases in federal spending or tax revenues to rebuild infrastructure. He thinks the auto industry should have been left to die and that the economy would have done better without a single dime of recovery spending.

Indeed, Hensarling identifies with extreme budgetary policies that would eviscerate government altogether. House Speaker John Boehner appointed Hensarling to the deficit-cutting panel to please his party’s far right Tea Party wing. There would be no new money for towns like Kemp in Hensarling’s America. The same can fairly be assumed of Gov. Perry, who is about to enter the presidential race on a skimpy platform whose basic plank is “let God handle it.”

From the mayor’s practical perspective, such approaches are unlikely to accomplish much in the way of infrastructure repair. “If anybody’s got $30 million hanging around, we could use it,” he said. “That and about 17 crews working for two months, we could get out of this mess.” He laughed bitterly as he spoke, knowing how distant any such rescue remains. Meanwhile, Kemp residents will face an increasing probability that using their toilets at home will mean taking a pail to City Hall, filling it from a tanker truck, taking it home, pouring the water into the commode, and then finally relieving themselves. They will live with indignity, inconvenience and unsanitary conditions as summers grow hotter and government shrinks. With disdain for the public sector crippling every system that keeps our country civilized and our civilization functioning, that is the unhappy and unhealthy future awaiting all of Tea Party Nation.

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