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Pa. lawmaker calls per diem critic a 'Nazi' on radio show - abc27 WHTM

Pa. lawmaker calls per diem critic a 'Nazi' on radio show

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

A Jewish lawmaker and a Jewish activist got into a verbal spat on a Harrisburg radio show recently and it ended with Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) comparing Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital to Nazis.

The saga began with an abc27 News story last week about per diems, the receiptless system of expense reimbursement for lawmakers. Cohen in 2011 claimed $39,333 in mostly tax-free, extra income intended to cover legitimate expenses. Cohen is yearly among the highest per diem claimers in the state Legislature.

Government watchdogs like Epstein have publicly criticized Cohen for years; upset not only at what they view as Cohen's excesses, but blasting a system that fails to rein him in.

Cohen has repeatedly refused to talk to abc27 News about per diems, but agreed to go on  Harrisburg radio station 580 AM Friday afternoon to discuss the topic by telephone on "The Bob Durgin Show."

Durgin wasn't there. Epstein was, as a fill-in co-host. During the exchange, Cohen repeated a claim that he is the "hardest working legislator in Harrisburg" and therefore entitled to the money.

Epstein challenged that, asking by what metric can that be judged? Cohen called Epstein "a liar who hates the Legislature." Epstein said all he wants is for people like Cohen to lead by example. That's when the lawmaker got testy, even racial, in his response.

"I want to lead on the basis of solving problems," Cohen said. "I don't to lead in trying to please the guy (Epstein) who hates legislators in a way Nazis hated Jews."

At that point, you can hear an audible gasp in the studio. Epstein sighs and says "I'm done. One Jew to another, that is never an acceptable comparison."

But Cohen continues. "With you it is, Eric," he said.

Epstein asks if Cohen is accusing him of being a Nazi? "No Eric, I'm accusing you of being a fanatic," Cohen said.

It's about 20 minutes of riveting radio, at times uncomfortable to hear but impossible to turn off. Cohen and Epstein apparently have a history of animus and reconciliation does not seem likely anytime soon.

If you'd like to hear the exchange listen here.

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