By SIDNEY ZION
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
It comes down now that a guy named Joe from Texas is blocking the Congress of the United States from helping to combat autism.
Republican Rep. Joe Barton, by dint of his chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has thus far been able to keep from the House floor a bill that unanimously passed the Senate and would deliver $900 million for research into this disease, which afflicts 1.5 million Americans.
The money, spread over five years, wouldn't pay for breakfast in Baghdad for our troops. Yet it is held hostage by Barton, who has said he won't move it until he gets a new bill reforming the National Institutes of Health. Which is a classic stall.
But the real question is this: How in our democracy is one man able to kill legislation all by himself?
In order to get an answer I called Barton, whose office did not return my calls. I called Speaker Dennis Hastert's staff -- again, no return. I called the White House. They said nothing but, "The bill is being reviewed."
So I checked it out and found that in 1880, a House rule enabled a committee chairman to block legislation, giving him what's known as "gatekeeper power." But it was diluted over the years, and today the party leadership can easily overcome an intransigent chairman.
Hastert himself explained it best years ago, when he was the deputy whip. If they refuse to listen, "they won't be chairmen of their committees."
But now, their minds on the midterm elections, obviously the Republican leadership ain't talking. So why should Joe Barton listen?
The only reason would be the voters, but how can they hear if the media isn't making waves? And this is a conundrum -- where is The New York Times and all the rest of the press we would expect to jump all over a reactionary like Barton?
Except there is the estimable Don Imus, who has made it a one-man crusade to get this legislation through and to depose Joe Barton.
I called Imus on Wednesday. He said, "I don't know whose payroll this guy is on. I thought it was our payroll. But maybe he'll be off our payroll in November."
If "Imus in the Morning" wants you, history shows you're toast by dinner.
But this time, even Imus could use help from the pols who say they want to help the kids, but are busy with other news.
Sidney Zion is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.