As CQPolitics explains, the Democrats were not the only party to show a shameful degree of fear-based voting yesterday in the Senate. Last month the Democrats failed in an effort to pass this year's Medicare bill when they fell one vote short of the needed sixty votes to invoke cloture. The only reason the Democrats did not have 60 votes was because Teddy Kennedy was in treatment for his cancer. No Republican was willing to acknowledge this and toss their vote to Kennedy out of respect for his years of service and his commitment to health care. It was shameful, and I said so at the time.
The Democrats reintroduced the bill yesterday and the Republicans assumed that they still had the votes to block cloture. They introduced ridiculous amendments and demanded the Democrats cave in because they knew they couldn't pass their version. But then Kennedy suddenly and unexpectedly appeared on the Senate floor. All Senators, from both parties, erupted in applause at the sight of an upright and walking Teddy Kennedy. They gave him a two-minute standing ovation.
Kennedy, 76, entered the chamber midway through the roll call vote. With an arm around his shoulder was presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama of Illinois. As they walked through the door, stunned fellow senators, aides and gallery watchers broke into raucous applause.
With the cheers still cascading, Charles E. Schumer , D-N.Y., walked to the center of the aisle and blew a kiss at the Republican side, grinning.
Sen. Schumer blew them a kiss because he knew that the Democrats now had the needed 60 votes to invoke cloture and pass the Medicare bill. And then a funny thing happened.
And this time around, Republicans fled the president once it became obvious that Kennedy’s vote would give supporters of the bill the 60 votes needed to advance it.
Nine Republicans who had voted against the bill on June 26 switched to vote in favor of the Medicare measure.
Here are some typical explanations for the flip-flop:
“We’ve had a very dramatic moment in the room here,” said Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “I voted for the bill. It’s not the way I would have written it,” she added.
Even as he criticized the bill, John Cornyn , R-Texas, explained his vote for it. “It reversed the cut. That’s the commitment I made to the physicians in my state,” he said.
Cornyn is referring to the portion of the bill that will prevent a dramatic cut in doctors' compensation. In opposing the bill, he was reneging on a promise he had made the physicians' groups to prevent the cut. In supporting the bill, he sought to take credit for keeping his promise. Hutchison's explanation was more honest, but not honest enough. Both Texas senators were more than willing to kill the bill, but they were not prepared to be on the record as opposing it if it passed. This is the exact kind of behavior that has many Democrats seething at Barack Obama. This 'against it before I was for it' voting strategy doesn't inspire any confidence or respect from voters. It is not an example of moderation. It's a matter of fear.
The Republicans are discovering that very few seats are safe. Ideally this would lead the Democrats to press their advantage and repeatedly probe for weaknesses and ways to crack Republican unity. On the Medicare bill, they found a fissure in Republican resolve. But on many other issues, the Democrats are afraid to rock a boat that seems to sailing with so much wind at its back. FISA was a case in point. The Republicans have tried unsuccessfully in several special elections to turn the Democrats' respect for civil liberties into a weakness against terrorism. But, even though they haven't won any elections using this strategy, they did succeed in making a rump of Democrats afraid that opposing FISA would lead to damaging 30-second spots. It's the same reason that John Cornyn caved on Medicare and it comes down to this ...
It's easy to say in a 30-second spot that John Cornyn voted against the Medicare bill and broke his promise to doctors. But it takes too much time to explain that John Cornyn only kept his promise when it became clear the bill would pass without his support. Cornyn flipped to add ten seconds of explanation to a 30-second ad. It's as simple as that. That's what politics has come to in this country. Sometimes it is even worse. Politicians will make bad votes in an effort to prevent an opponent from distorting their record. I'm sorry, but if you distort your votes to prevent someone from distorting your record, you are doing their job for them. There was a lot of shame to go around in the Senate yesterday.
Three things, tangentially related:
1. Corndog is scrambling, because he is really scared he's going to lose to Rick Noriega.
2. Rick Noriega had the right thing to say on FISA:
"Many times throughout my lifetime I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. This isn't a part-time Constitution. We as a nation cannot grant anyone sweeping amnesty if they break the rules. It's appalling that my opponent, John Cornyn, puts his special interest campaign contributors ahead of the Constitution. Texanshave had enough.
Americans will not accept an abuse of power, and they will not accept corporations getting away with breaking the law.We already have a law in place that balances national security concerns while adhering to the Constitution. This is not the time to compromise the privacy of the American people and not the time to disregard the Constitution of United States. I regret that the Senate has voted this way."
3. Barack Obama voted for cloture on FISA. Which killed the possibility of a Dodd filibuster (it needed 41 votes and got 26). Which says, "Let's get this show on the road so I can get back out on the campaign trail".
I expect a lot more leadership than that out of my presidential candidate, especially when it comes down to defending his oath of office as well as the 4th Amendment itself.