Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on health care legislation. Sorta.
Speaker Nancy Pelosis goal is to pass the Senate bill and send it to the president for his signature. But the House will not vote on that Senate bill. No. Certainly not.
Instead, through a tricky little parliamentary maneuver called deem and pass, the House will simply deem the Senate legislation to have passed, without voting to pass it. This sophomoric dodge has reportedly been used before. (Why is there congressional precedent for every rotten legislative scam imaginable?)
But heavens, no self-respecting person would be caught voting for the Senate health care bill. It stinks to high heaven with odorous items like the Louisiana Purchase, the sweetheart deal funneling $300 million in federal Medicare funds to the Sportsmans Paradise to secure Senator Mary Landrieus vote, and the Cornhusker Kickback, which plied Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson with the inspiration necessary to convert to the reform side.
Of course, the Cecil B. length and DeMille scope of this mountain of sausage means no one has much of a handle on whats actually in it. Speaker Pelosi embraced the congressional game of hide-and-seek, arguing that we have to pass the bill so you can find out whats in it.
Its sort of like choosing whats behind Monte Halls Door No. 3 on Lets Make a Deal — and then waiting to discover whether youve just won three goats or the new washer-dryer set.
The best bet is: Two lame nannies and a dead billy.
House members understandably dont want to vote on the Senates demon seed for the very reasons recorded votes are desirable in the first place: Voters might hold legislators accountable.
But the Senate health care bill must be passed. Thats the only way Democrats can enact changes to it through whats termed reconciliation and avoid a likely Senate filibuster — meaning Senate passage would require only 51 votes as opposed to 60.
Hence the legislative three-card monte. Enjoy the skillful demonstration of American politics.
This is how Washington thinks. And behaves. No wonder the health care push has not generated majority public support.
Throughout the 14-month march to this point, our nations leaders have consistently deemed the genuine opposition to the bill from a majority of everyday Americans to be rather unimportant. Not worth addressing.
Instead, as if channeling Dan Rather, President Barack Obama and Speaker Pelosi counsel courage to their voting-card wielding minions. This means the bravery to ignore what the public thinks of the legislation. Not, certainly, the courage to resist political threats or promises or even the apparently Disneyish allure of a plane ride on Air Force One.
Theres something not altogether straightforward about this.
In fact, the process of moving the health care measure through Congress has been so unseemly that now Democrat leaders are urging folks to look past that to see the substance.
The substance? The legislation authorizes the federal Congress to reach into the life of every individual and business in every state and to force each of us, or our employers, to buy health insurance.
Thats not so popular, either.
Political regulation of medicine has created much of the current problem. Nearly 3,000 pages more hardly seems the solution.
But whatever happens with todays vote and whatever else lurks in page after page of dense legalese, we have learned something: Nothing has changed in Washington.
Confronted by the cold, hard reality of a corrupt process, after having promised a different way of operating, Obama admitted, Yes, I have said that is an ugly process. It was ugly when Republicans were in charge; it was ugly when Democrats were in charge.
Yes, Washington is rotten. It has been for as long as anyone cares to remember. And now, after just a year, Obama has no plans to challenge this dysfunctional status quo. He argues, in effect, that we should not worry our pretty little heads about the ugly behavior of the men and women behind the curtain.
One year of the presidency has changed his slogan from Yes, we can to Lets not bother. Honesty, transparency, accountability? Not from Congress, certainly, and no longer a priority in the administration.
All he really offers is just more inefficient government.
More of the same, in other words. The only difference may be that now its a lot more of the same.