Rep. Cohen uses Nazi reference in radio show scuffle over per diems

Government reform activist Eric Epstein has taken some pretty nasty hits from thin-skinned lawmakers. A few years ago Gov. Rendell compared him to a cannibal.

Then, last week in a live call-in radio show, he was likened to a Nazi - by, of all people, Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia, who is Jewish.

Cohen unleashed that and a string of invectives on Epstein during a segment on "The Bob Durgin Show" on WHP in Harrisburg.

Epstein was co-hosting the show with fellow reform activist Russ Diamond. The topic was per diems - the tax-payer funded daily reimbursement for food and lodging that lawmakers are allowed to take when they are working in Harrisburg.

No receipts are required.

Cohen - who was first elected to the House in 1974 - topped the charts with a whopping $39,333 in per diems last year.

A report by Dennis Owens of WHTM-TV found that Cohen collected per diems for dozens of days the legislature was not in session including Easter, July 4th and entire month of August.

(Similar reviews by the Inquirer, the Daily News and other publications have found similar results in other years.)

Owens reports when the per diem rate went up by a $1 in April 2011 to $158 a day, Cohen submitted a retroactive invoice for the extra dollar.

On the radio program Cohen defended his record of per diem use, saying he is in Harrisburg a lot because he is a "workaholic."

Epstein and Cohen got into a scuffle (listen to it here) when Epstein challenged the per diems as unnecessary - with the base pay for lawmakers topping $80,000 - and undocumented.

Then it gets personal. Cohen blurts out that Epstein "hates legislators the way the Nazis hated Jews."

A stunned Epstein says, "Are you accusing me of being a Nazi?"

Cohen replies, "No, I am accusing you of being a fanatic."

Tribune-Review analysis found a total of $2.2 million in public funds were doled out for per diems for the 253 members of the General Assembly in 2011.

There were other lawmakers from the far western part of the state that took per diems in the $30,000 range. By comparison, the next highest collector of per diems from the Philadelphia area was Sen. Michael Stack, who collected $12,150.

Said Epstein in an email about his tiff with Cohen and his history of being attacked by Jewish lawmakers:

 "The only thing missing is for a former Jewish senator [Arlen Specter] to finger me for shooting JFK."


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