The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is one of those obscure federal panels that does yeoman's work with little notoriety and an even smaller budget.
Created by Congress in 1998 to advise government officials on the plight of persecuted religious groups, the USCIRF now faces a shutdown unless Congress approves its reauthorization. But with the House having already approved a funding bill, only a few Tea Party zealots stand in the way of the agency's renewal.
And by "Tea Party zealots," I mean "one liberal Democratic Senator with a parochial interest in an Illinois state prison…"
The Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison near the Mississippi River town of Thomson, was built by the Illinois government for about $140 million a decade ago but hardly used because of staffing issues.
[Senator Richard] Durbin, according to advocates for the religious groups that are the commission's most ardent supporters, wants Congress to come up with the money to buy the prison and make it a federal facility, and he has put a hold on the reauthorization bill until that happens. His leverage could be that Rep. Frank R. Wolf , the Virginia Republican who sponsored the legislation creating the commission in 1998, chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds federal prisons.
These heartwarming stories of semi-anonymous Senate holds always remind me of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. If only Mr. Smith were a career politician willing to stand up to the influence of corrupt interest groups like "Big Refugee" and "Big Persecuted Minority" in order to advance the economic agenda of his home state.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Tags: Dick Durbin, House of Representatives, Illinois, Prison, Religion, Senate