In such cases, career politicians tend to be very "pragmatic" in changing their votes to please their team; by doing so, they boost their standing as players. But those in Congress who have voluntarily limited their terms (and who later step down, honoring their pledges) don't cow so easily. It's one reason the congressional leadership of both parties loves incumbency and hates term limits. Readers of my Common Sense e-letter are familiar with the stories of Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Nick Smith from Michigan standing up to partisan leadership to do the right thing.
Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland leveled the harshest criticism after Republicans turned a 15-minute vote into a 38-minute vote to avoid losing on an amendment to the Patriot Act. The Democratic leader charged:
House Republican leaders proved once again today that they will stop at virtually nothing to win a vote, even if that means running roughshod over the most basic principles of democracy such as letting Members vote their conscience and calling the vote after time has elapsed.
They ought to be ashamed of themselves, but when it comes to holding votes open and twisting the arms of their own Members they clearly have no shame.
These back-alley tactics have no place in the greatest deliberative body in the world. They might be the life-blood of a tin-horn dictator, but not a world leader.
Hoyer has a point. The rules don't seem quite fair. And Republican leaders don't have much of a defense. But they certainly are quick to point out that the Democrats had similar rules and exhibited as bad if not worse behavior when Democrats controlled the House before the 1994 elections.
You might be thinking, "Can't we put the past aside and have fair rules from this day forward? Isn't that simply the American way?" Yes it is, but don't hold your breath for Republican House leaders to reform this practice.
And what about the poor, victimized Democrats? Would they change the evil they are so busy assailing? Reporters asked Hoyer exactly that: Was Hoyer, as a member of the Democratic leadership, pledging not to do the very same thing for which he was attacking Republicans, should Democrats win enough seats to take the majority?
Mr. Hoyer replied, "I am not."
He explained with a straight face that the Republicans had called these tactics corrupt when Democrats had used them against Republicans. (Okay.) Therefore, for Republicans to now employ them is hypocritical. (Okay, right.) To what must have been a stunned and incredulous room of reporters, the righteous and honorable Mr. Hoyer further clarified his past support of Democratic vote extensions, "If I thought it was a corrupt practice, I would have opposed it."
Let's clarify the clarification. The Democratic whip opposes "corrupt" practices, but really doesn't oppose violating the "basic principles of democracy" or employing "back-alley tactics" or behaving like a "dictator" as long as these are done by Democrats to Republicans and not ? heaven forbid ? by Republicans to Democrats. Somehow, that's why Republicans are hypocritical and Hoyer is not.
His logic doesn't exactly make you want to grab a pennant or a pom-pom and holler, "Go Blue Team!" does it? Nor do the antics of the Republican leaders in the House inspire flag-waving for the Reds.
Of course, the only thing worse than partisanship is bipartisanship. Or, as I like to call it, another congressional pay raise.
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