Archive for December, 2009

Buying votes

December 23, 2009

Yesterday I heard an interview with Senator Grahm of South Carolina.  He had asked his state attorney general to look into the legality of the deal by which Senator Ben Nelson was persuaded to vote for cloture on the health care reform bill.   He along with others was appalled that the state of Nebraska will have its share of the increased Medicaid costs resulting from the Health Care Bill waived as a condition for Senator Nelson to vote for cloture.

Senator Graham is not the only person who has asserted that this arrangement does not pass the “smell test.”  Before I continue,  I should say that I do not believe this arrangement to be fair either.  Moreover, I believe it is never a positive development to bribe legislators to vote in one way or another, even though I am realistic enough to recognize that this kind of  thing goes on all the time.

What I do want to go on to say, however, is that in criticizing this arrangement it is important to consider what made it necessary.  The first consideration is that we no longer have majority rule in the Senate.  Almost anything that is presented needs to have the 60 votes to impose cloture on the debate.  In other words, every piece of substantive legislation on which there is any partisan differnce is subject to the requirement of a procedural vote of 60 members.  Under these conditions a legitimately elected majority is prevented from carrying out the mandates on which they were elected.

A second consideration which made Senator Nelson’s vote necessary was the refusal of the opposition party to engage in any constructive dialogue regarding the needs for health care reform and any good faith effort to develop legislation to provide that reform.  When under the leadership of Senator Baucus of the Finance Committee Republicans were given the opportunity to have a direct impact on the bill, those involved chose to use this opportunity to water down the bill, rather than to present positive proposals for reform.

A third consideration is the disingenuous participation of some Republicans and Democrats alike.  Chief among those involved was Senator Joe Lieberman.  Lieberman represents Connecticut, a state in which a large majority of the voters supported including a public option in the health care bill.  Lieberman, however, would have no part of it.  Why?  Because he also comes from a state in which the insurance industry has corporate headquarters, and because his pockets have been well-lined by corporate insurance contributions.  (Lieberman is, of course, an Independent, but Democrats were not exempt from being in a similar position.  Consider Evan Bayh of Indiana.)

So, yes, immediate deals made prior to the post-1:00 am vote early  Monday morning generated a might stench.  But those objecting to the smell must also acknowledge that the entire process was odiferous from its earliest beginnings, and there is plenty of blame to go around for that.  No one source of smell should be singled out either for investigation or criticism.