- - Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Congress is itching to get out of town, and Washington is itching to see them leave. The heat sometimes does strange things to congressional brains. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, spent most of a week persuading/forcing his colleagues to pass a six-year transportation bill that he knows will die in the House of Representatives.

The House had already adopted a short-term extension of the financing that would have given everyone time to come to an agreement on a longer term bill, and to find the money to pay for it. Mr. McConnell decided it would be “my way or the highway.” He drew up a scheme to pay for the first three of the six years that wouldn’t pass anyone’s giggle test, and he shunned consideration of two alternate plans. The House must accept his scheme, or else.

The standoff will no doubt continue when the August recess ends and Mr. McConnell’s work will get an intense lobbying push from the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Boeing and General Electric. They like it because in the usual way of treating legislation as a Christmas tree, Mr. McConnell added an amendment extending the life of the Export-Import Bank, which big business loves but hardly anyone else does. The House is not likely to buckle.

The focus was less on the highway legislation than on why Mr. McConnell enabled the Export-Import Bank amendment to come to a vote, but blocked a similar attempt to use the strategy to get a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood over its callous marketing of the baby parts it harvests in the abortions it performs. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas insists that Mr. McConnell had looked him in the eye and said he had never promised the big-business interests a vote on the Export-Import Bank amendment. He called the majority leader a “liar” on the floor of the Senate, which is plainer speech than delicate Republican tummies are accustomed to.

Not one of the Cruz colleagues who watched the earlier exchange in the Republican Senate caucus backed up his version of what Mr. McConnell did or did not say, but that only proves what everybody already knows, that Republicans, unlike Democrats, never take brass knuckles to a unity meeting. The newspapers are full of stories about the McConnell machinations to get the votes for approving authority for President Obama to negotiate the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement, and what he had to promise whom to collect the necessary votes. That’s how legislation is made. Unless Mr. Cruz was napping, and he seems never to sleep, he had to know that.

Cruz critics accuse him of saying something incendiary — calling the Senate leader a liar is pretty incendiary — to put Donald Trump in the shade, at least for a day. He may not have correctly calculated the reaction of his colleagues and others, and may (or may not) suffer for it. The brouhaha shifted the focus from a bad piece of legislation that should never have got past the Senate, and won’t get much support in the House, no matter how much money is spent lobbying by folks who care more about an amendment that is not germane, than about the bill itself.

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