And How’d That Work Out For Them?

Ezra Klein, on Congressional bending of the rules*:

Here are some things that happened on the night the GOP pushed the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit through the House of Representatives:

A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.”

Democrats, who are currently trying to pass health-care reform in a way that doesn’t break congressional rules but does upset some Republicans, should take note.

This episode, as well as the continual push for spending and expansion of government that accompanied these tactics, may have won the day but lost the war.

One must ask why a party with full control of Congress needed to threaten some members and bribe others to get their reform passed? To this I see two potential reasons:

  1. They truly believed that the legislation was improper for the federal government.
  2. They were scared their constituents would punish them at the ballot box for their mistreatment of the public purse.

If the former, changing their vote and voting against their principles should reflect poorly on their character. If the latter (which I believe to be the case), at least it proves one thing: they were right.

After several years of George W.C.C. Bush** and Republican control of Congress, conservatives expected several things. Tax cuts, of course, which they got. Control over the size and growth of government spending, though, which they didn’t. Eventually the cry from many on the right seemed to be “if they’re going to spend like this anyway, we might as well elect Democrats!” Those on the right who continued to argue against such an idea (Hannity, Limbaugh, et al.) were reduced to the argument that while these Republicans are bad, those Democrats are assuredly worse.

The end result was that the party’s core voting block, fiscal conservatives, stayed home a few elections in a row and turned the Congress over to Democrats. And where did this occur? In Congressional districts where seats were vulnerable…

…just like the Blue Dog seats.

Why don’t the Democrats play hardball? Because enough of them know that passing this bill will end their political careers, and a few of them are just getting their posterior imprints comfortable when they ousted Republicans in 2008 or 2006. They want another few decades in Congress, not another 10 months.

They saw the results of bold action that might upset voters, and they’re certainly not in a hurry to repeat the carnage.

* Not sure whether rules were “bent” or “broken” in that fiasco, and whether what was done was legal or not. Nor do I much care, because there are no real consequences that would come to bear other than those that already occurred — Republicans tarnishing their brand and losing control of Congress by alienating their entire voting base.

** The “C.C.” for Compassionate Conservative, of course.