Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The latest hypocritical nonsense about Senate procedures from the Republicans

Back during the 1990s, UN inspectors in Iraq had a joke about how you could tell when the Iraqi government officials they were dealing with were lying: "Their mustaches are moving."

Well, most current Congressional Republicans don't have mustaches. So if we want to know these days when the things they say about the health care reform are dishonest--in ways that range from outright lies to misleading prevarication and shameless hypocrisy--we can just check to see whether their lips are moving.

The Republicans and the larger right-wing propaganda machine do keep banging on about the alleged novelty and iniquity of using "reconciliation" to help pass major legislation, even though all their claims have repeatedly been shown to be false and/or hypocritical. (The two are not precisely the same, since an argument might have some substantive validity even if the person making it is being hypocritical, but in the noise wars over "reconciliation" the Republicans and their media echo-chamber are generally making claims that are false and hypocritical.)

But now, on top of that, a new variant in this hypocritical whining has emerged. This time it's about the possibility that the House Democrats might use a procedural maneuver that the Republicans themselves used repeatedly and enthusiastically when they controlled Congress, and even defended in court against a legal challenge, the "self-executing rule." (To try to pretend that this is something new and unprecedented, Republicans are calling this maneuver the "Slaughter Solution" or the "Slaughter Rule," after House Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter--and, as usual, are getting many alleged political "journalists" to repeat this sloganeering uncritically. For a quick dose of reality, see here.)

=> All this is nicely captured by Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute:
Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.” That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?
Clearly not.

=> In the long run, of course, routine use of government by loophole to pass important legislation, a tendency that has been escalated primarily though not exclusively by the Republicans over the past several decades, is not the best way to run a serious political system. I think Ornstein is right about that. But changing this would require an agreement on serious and genuine reform, not simply unilateral disarmament by the Democrats.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub