Buffalo News Editorial

Reynolds' choice

Congressman can follow GOP leadership or help get aid for his constituents


Thousands of Western New York workers who took part in America's hydrogen bomb program have some hope today that they finally may be compensated for exposure to nuclear radiation. But that hope may be short lived thanks to the Republican House, which, working with the Bush administration, killed a companion bill in the House Rules Committee.

Fortunately for these workers, who sacrificed their health in the service of their country, there will be another bite at this apple. The House can accept the Senate language on compensation, enacted with broad bipartisan sponsorship, in the final Defense Authorization Act that will come out of conference in the coming weeks. Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, needs to use his influence to see that it does.

This will be an opportunity for Reynolds, whose district includes many potential claimants, to show that the interests of his constituents outweigh the concerns of the Republican leadership, of which he is a member. Reynolds, a Rules Committee member who voted against the bill, cannot fold his hands and sit silently by while people in his district lose the compensation they deserve.

Before the conference report can go back to the floor, it has to come up through the Rules Committee. Rarely does that committee vote down a defense bill that comes out of conference.

Reynolds' office said the congressman voted against the initial measure on procedural grounds. It's hard to see how procedure is more important that the welfare of his constituents. In any event, he will have a chance, if he wants to take advantage of it, to use his influence to make sure the Senate provision for compensation is in the final conference report.

The Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, that would make those who had been exposed to uranium, thorium and radon after 1952, or their survivors, eligible to apply for payments of up to $150,000 each. It also would create a "resource center" to advise workers who were exposed to radiation at plants in Buffalo, Lackawanna, the Tonawandas, Niagara Falls and Lockport who have been denied support.

Rep. Louise Slaughter had introduced the House legislation calling for such compensation. The Clinton-Schumer-Slaughter bills would extend eligibility beyond 1952. Previously, anyone working in any of the plants after 1952 was ineligible for help, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The problem that the GOP House leadership and the administration have with the legislation appears to revolve around cost.

This legislation puts Reynolds in the awkward position of having to choose between his constituents and the GOP leadership. But given what his job is - representing the interests of Western New Yorkers - it really shouldn't be a difficult choice.

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