The Politico story quoted extensively below is a gem, on several levels. By way of background, Senate Democrats are hopping mad because Republicans have complicated their game plan to stage a series of quixotic, poll-tested, pre-election show votes. The GOP's specific sin? Agreeing to proceed to a debate on the first proposed measure -- which just happens to be a Constitutional Amendment imposing unprecedented new federal limits on political speech:
Several Senate Republicans joined Democrats on Monday to advance a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states greater power to regulate campaign finance. But the bipartisanship ends there. Many of the Republicans only voted for the bill to foul up Democrats’ pre-election messaging schedule, freezing precious Senate floor time for a measure that ultimately has no chance of securing the two-thirds support necessary in both the House and Senate to amend the Constitution. The legislation needed 60 votes to advance and Democrats took a cynical view of the 79-18 tally. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the GOP’s tactic was simply to “stall” because it would eat up limited floor time that Democrats are eyeing for votes aimed at encouraging gender pay equity and raising the minimum wage.
Democrats were counting on Republicans to vote against cloture -- ie, "filibuster" -- the doomed, speech-squelching amendment right from the get-go. The script was pre-written: These Republicans are obstructing votes in order to protect millionaires and billionaires who are poising our politics with filthy outside money! To that end, within minutes of the upper chamber being gaveled back into session after the August recess, Harry Reid resumed his deranged muttering about the sinister Koch brothers. (Always absent in these harangues is any mention of the vast network of moneyed liberal donors, who regularly outspend their conservative counterparts). But before that message machine got revved up, a significant number of GOP members decided to play along. They voted to proceed to a debate, which will eat up many hours of floor time, and will culminate in a failed vote on the amendment, which requires 67 votes to pass. Self-described Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is aggrieved by the cynicism of it all:
“They know we’re getting out of here fairly shortly and they want to prevent discussion on other very important issues,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “I would love to be proven wrong. But if the end of this week, we end up getting 67 votes, you can tell me I was too cynical.” ... Democrats’ argument would be made simpler if the GOP simply rejected the constitutional amendment on the first vote, rather than opening debate on it. But now the amendment will be on the Senate floor for several days — allowing perhaps the last substantive debate of the election season...
Got that? Reid's crew wanted to vote on changing the First Amendment...without a debate. Their aim wasn't to actually alter the First Amendment, of course; they're fully aware their proposal is destined to go down in flames, thus preserving the big money status quo from which they richly benefit. No, their aim was to attack Republicans for blocking an idea that polls well when framed in facile soundbytes. Now that the GOP has agreed not to obstruct the amendment by foreclosing debate, Democrats have resorted to a creative alternate line of attack: Accusing Republicans of, well, obstruction. Vote against triggering debate? Obstruction! Vote in favor of triggering that precise debate? Cynical obstruction! They're frustrated because Republicans have fiendishly assented to a lengthy debate, the existence of which denies Democrats the opportunity to cram in a boatload of theater-style votes on items that have no chance of passing. But remember, it's Republicans who are being cynical here. (Also, aren't we often informed that the act of voting for measures that stand no chance of becoming law in the existing political environment is the height of nihilistic, wacky wing-nuttery -- even when some of those votes have, in fact, become law?) Republicans, incidentally, aren't backing away from this fight. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a veteran of bruising campaign finance battles, placed a guest column for Politico this week on the subject:
The proposal [Democrats] want to consider would empower incumbent politicians to write the rules on who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And while no one likes to be criticized, the way for Senate Democrats to avoid it is to make better arguments, or even better, to come up with better ideas — not shut up their constituents. Not surprisingly, a proposal as bad as the one Senate Democrats are pushing won’t even come close to garnering the votes it would need to pass. But to many Democrats, that’s just the point. They want this proposal to fail because they think that somehow would help them on Election Day — they think it will help drive to the polls more left-wing voters who don’t like having to defend their ideas...A more sensible approach would be for the Democrats who run the Senate to take up the slew of job-creation bills the Republican-controlled House already has passed, some with overwhelming bipartisan support. But Senate Democrats prefer to spend their time on bizarre sideshows like trying to take an eraser to the First Amendment.
National Review's editors summarize the amendment under consideration, excoriating it as "an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself." They expose how the proposal, "would invest Congress with blanket authority to censor newspapers and television reports, ban books and films, and imprison people for expressing their opinions. So long as two criteria are met — the spending of money and intending to influence an election — the First Amendment would no longer apply." Indeed, part of its verbiage surrenders to Congress the highly subjective power of defining "reasonable" limits on spending intended to influence elections. Also known as "speech." NR's conclusion: "If those who would criticize the government must first secure the government’s permission to do so, they are not free people." Here's constitutional scholar Sen. Mike Lee building the case against the restrictions sought by Democrats:
I'll leave you with a clever and related question posed by Charles Krauthammer: If, for the purposes of campaign finance "reform" and birth control mandates, corporations are not people -- as Democrats insist -- how can they demand that corporations exhibit "patriotism"?