Did Rahm Emanuel Get the Elder Justice Act Done?

Is Rahm Emanuel trying to become the big-city version of Larry the Cable Guy.

Emanuel released his third “Getting It Done” video this week, telling the story of his work on the Elder Justice Act, which protects nursing home patients. It’s a nice story, but the fact is, the measure was first introduced before Emanuel became a congressman, and it didn’t pass until after he left the House.

When Emanuel was a congressman, he used to hold “Congress on Your Corner” sessions at which he’d sit in groceries stores in his district and allow ordinary people to talk to him. One of those people was Rosemary Pulice, a nursing home reform advocate whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, and had been abused by his caregivers.

“I was doing my Saturday shopping and walked into Dominick’s and there was Rahm Emanuel,” Pulice says in the video. “He was talking to everybody in the store. I thought, ‘Well, here’s my chance to meet a U.S. congressman and see what can happen.’”

After hearing Pulice’s story, Emanuel says in the video, he introduced the Elder Justice Act, to provide federal money for training nursing home employees and coordinating federal, state and local efforts to stop the abuse and exploitation of senior citizens.

Emanuel did advocate for the bill, but he didn’t conceive it, nor did he finally pass it. The act was first introduced in 2002, before Emanuel was elected to Congress, by Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana. It was finally signed into law this year, as part of President Obama's health care reform package. Emanuel had by then left Congress to become White House chief of staff. Emanuel co-sponsored several versions of the bill while he was in the House of Representatives, but none ultimately passed.

Here’s what Emanuel has to say about his role: “This is why I introduced the Elder Justice Act. It’s the first time the federal government now has on its books particular protections to seniors, be they financial crimes or violent crimes, so the Justice Department as well as Health and Human Services are there now to protect them.”

Emanuel deserves credit for responding to a constituent’s request for help with an ailing father. And he deserves credit for keeping the Elder Justice Act alive for the eight years it was stalled in Congress, as well as promoting it as White House Chief of Staff. But he didn’t come up with the idea, and it didn't pass with his vote.

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