Two days ago I wrote a headline on my column reporting President Obama signing the new health overhaul legislation into law and now let the games begin.
Boy, did they.
My award for the most clever amendment introduced in the Senate reconciliation process to embarrass Democrats goes to Tom Coburn, the doctor from Oklahoma. Among the amendments he offered was to ban Viagra prescriptions for sex offenders.
You see, the game being played by Republican senators was to force the House approved reconciliation bill back to the House despite an agreement of understanding from Democratic leaders in both chambers that wouldn't happen.
The purpose of Senate Republicans is political only. In Coburn's case, it poses the burden of Democrats explaining to voters they first voted for the health reform legislation and then against it. After all, what physician in his right mind would write a script for erectile dysfunction to a sex offender.
As I write this, the Senate Democrats shot down nearly every Republican amendment but because of a ruling from the independent parliamentarian, the GOP won the "gotcha" game and forced the reconciliation bill back to the House. More on that in a minute.
I don't usually write about the inner sanctums of Congressional legislative process and arcane rules because most people are too busy to pay attention and only interested in the final results just as they read the final box scores in the sports sections. Yeah, the process is a real snoozer.
But in this case the dynamics are real and the Republicans appear to be obstructionists. As a matter of scheduling Senate business, it routinely allows a unanimous consent to allow committee hearings before the full Senate is in session and in some cases two hours after that.
Not this week. Any one Senator can object to the unanimous consent privilege. They did and all other business came to a screeching halt. The rule also allows the objecting Senator to remain anonymous. In one case, Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina took the floor and announced:
I have no personal objection to continuing. There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.
Now, I am only guessing but the dots I connect lead to Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) who earlier this week pledged non cooperation with the Democrats the remainder of the year. McCain is a member of the Armed Services Committee chaired by Carl Levin, (D-Michigan) holding critical hearings on policies involving Japan, Korea and China. The top two military commanders and diplomatic honchos in the Far East had been summoned to testify at the committee hearings only to sit on their butts and waste time.
Other committee stagnation included a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee session on Contracts for Afghan National Police Training.” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), chair of the subcommittee, went on the Senate floor and called out the GOP tactics:
This is a hearing that is getting to the heart of the matter that we have a real problem with the mission part in Afghanistan on police training because of problems with these contracts, problems with oversight of the State Department...
I don't get it.
Key witnesses from Defense and State also had to sit on their butts doing nothing but wait.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was forced to cancel a hearing considering the nominations of judicial appointments. "Senate Republicans' tactics of obstruction and delay know no limit," bitched judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy.
Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) was forced to suspend his hearing in progress on Veterans and Environment and Public Works that were considering ways to help homeless veterans. A hearing on helping small business owners also was postponed.
A defiant McCaskill returned to the Senate floor to gripe:
"I don't get what the purpose of saying 'no' is. I don't get what we accomplish. We're sent here to work. We're paid by the people of this country to work."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House is scheduled to meet Thursday night and predicted passage of the reconciliation bill in which the Senate rules negated a small section dealing with college loans and any other last-minute but unexpected amendments that may have won over Democratic votes.
Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin struck two minor provisions from the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act that violated Senate rules for reconciliation, a process which avoids a filibuster. The House passed the reconciliation measure Sunday night with a 220-211 margin.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) said one of the deleted provisions was a technical item that he considered "as close to a 'nothing' as you can come around here." The second, more substantive provision would have set a formula for establishing maximum Pell Grant awards. But Conrad said the formula would not have taken effect for two years, giving Congress time to restore it in another bill.
Not all the amendments offered by Republicans were frivolous, depending on one's political prism. For example, one Republican amendment would have rescinded about $500 billion in Medicare cuts to help subsidize an estimated 32 million people buy health insurance over the next decade.
Another ironically would have honored Obama's campaign pledge of no new taxes on middle income earners by stripping the new law's tax increases that will affect individuals who make less than $200,000 a year.
The Republicans in both houses of Congress are laying the groundwork for a voter tsunami in November that return the GOP to power but it seems built on a sand foundation and that their constituents are fools, idiots and gullible lambs incapable of seeing through so many lies, distortions and political gamesmanship. I would prefer to frame the November midterms as a referendum on the economy and jobs, both areas where the Democratic administration is vulnerable despite isolated sectors of encouraging success.