- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Some remarkable legislative events occurred recently in the sausage factory we call Congress. A cliff-hanging House vote with the final tally stretched out for hours; protracted Senate filibusters, one successful, one less so; and the piece de resistance next week, the scheduled completion of the last seven of the 13 annual federal spending bills — all rolled into one big up or down vote.

Yes, lawmakers used every recipe in the procedural kitchen to season this legislative feast. Yet, the majority’s recent machinations left certain Democrats with a case of legislative indigestion, burping accusations about the tyranny of the GOP’s so-called heavy-handed tactics. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said last week that the Republican maneuvers amounted to the “end of parliamentary democracy as we know it.” Please.

Give the man some Maalox.

It’s hard to accept these accusations with a straight face because behind the scenes, Democrats were grinding plenty of ‘wurst of their own. With all their whining about Republicans, the Democrats busted the hypocrisy meter.

For example, while Democrats raised “policy objections” to the Medicare and energy legislation, the core of their opposition was political. The substance was swamped by political objectives. “Going into the week before Thanksgiving, everyone knew the Democrats did not want to give the president two wins. They had to stop one — energy or Medicare — the only question was which one,” said a GOP Senate leadership aide. The energy bill became the victim — an outcome that should be reversed when Congress returns for its second session next year.

On Medicare, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) — usually more principled in its policy approach and deft at maneuvering intra-party fights — landed early on the side of the Kennedy-Daschle crowd, who want to deny the White House signing ceremonies like a miser protects pennies. Trying to use its “centrist” imprimatur to assist liberal party regulars, the DLC’s political motivation was irritating to its biggest supporters in the business community, who view the organization as a fair-minded bridge between Democratic politics and corporate America. “The DLC issued a press release against the bill two days before the language was even available,” one disgruntled businesses supporter said.

Next, when you don’t have the votes, play the “special interest” card. Time and time again in the last two weeks, as Congress debated the Medicare, energy or spending bills, Democrats complained that Republicans were “captives of special interests.” All the while, Democrats were parroting the press releases of unions, environmental groups and the People for the American Way, claiming they represent the public interest.

When Democrats decided to mount a filibuster on the energy bill, legions of environmental groups clogged the Senate with fliers, faxes and e-mails, like termites in a rotting old-growth forest. Similarly, Sen. Ted Kennedy tried to rally public health groups and other liberal organization to oppose the Medicare bill to help balance the support the bill received from the AARP. Yet, these liberal interests are never labeled “special,” nor are their patrons on the Hill described as “under their control,” despite evidence to the contrary. Just ask some recent U.S. circuit court nominees gunned down by scripts written by liberal groups such as the Alliance for Justice.

Finally, when obstruction becomes politically unpalatable, obfuscate. Few people realize that the Medicare bill was nearly defeated in the Senate, not by a Democratic filibuster, but by a procedural point of order that claimed the measure spent more money than called for in the budget. “The Democrats knew two filibusters — one on energy and one on Medicare — would be political unsustainable, so they came up with another gimmick,” said a Republican senator. “It’s ironic that those who oppose the bill because it doesn’t do enough may kill it because it spends too much.” Indeed, the closest vote in the Medicare debate in the Senate was the 61-39 motion to waive the budget act (60 votes are needed to waive the point of order and avoid killing the bill).

Aggressive use of congressional procedures by both the majority and the minority are not new. Yet, when Democrats push the procedural envelope and use unprecedented tactics like filibustering judicial nominations, they “employ savvy tactics” or “exercise minority rights.” But when Republicans extend roll call votes, they are “abusing power.” When Democrats protect the interests of the party’s key constituencies they are helping ordinary people, while Republicans are serving special interests. Critics of recent Republican tactics need a couple of swigs of Pepto-Bismol — plus a few spoonfuls of humility.

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