Busted: Dick Durbin Exposed As Hypocrite For Railing Against Handwritten Changes to Legislation

Guy Benson
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Posted: Dec 04, 2017 2:01 PM
Busted: Dick Durbin Exposed As Hypocrite For Railing Against Handwritten Changes to Legislation

There are a few topics that usually elicit startling hypocrisy from both major political parties, depending on whether or not they hold power.  One is judges and filibusters (although the GOP's application of the Reid Rule seems to have ended that debate), another is deficit spending (after applauding President Obama for nearly doubling the national debt over eight years, Democrats have rediscovered this problem, wielding it to oppose a plan to let Americans keep more of their own money), and yet another is good governance 'process.'  The party in control tends to prize victory over pristine process, whereas the 'out' party is inclined to portray the majority as underhanded and corrupt.  Often, the group doing the complaining has a point -- sausage-making can be a sordid business.  In recent months, the Left has raised its collective voice in condemnation of Congressional Republicans' governing adventures on healthcare and tax reform.  Some of their concerns about the healthcare process were pretty fair, as that process did not even faintly resemble "regular order," which GOP leaders vowed to reinstate back when they were blasting Democrats' ad hoc governance (which entailed lurching from crisis to crisis and calculatingly refusing to even offer budgets).  

Democrats have resurrected similar talking points during the tax debate, leading to nonsense whizzing around the internet about how the Senate bill was passed without any hearings, and without anyone reading the bill.  In truth, each house considered tax reform through the normal legislative process -- including days of hearings and full committee 'mark-ups,' in which dozens of amendments were considered and voted on. The bills were then advanced out of committee and onto the floor, where the legislation was debated and considered for final passage.  In the Senate, this included a so-called 'vote-a-rama,' an open-ended amendment spree required on budget votes. We shouldn't pretend that the whole process was a thing of beauty, like something straight out of Schoolhouse Rock.  For instance, Senate Republican leaders did make eleventh-hour alterations to the bill that were not fully finalized until mere hours before final passage (though it's also worth noting that this was not the final-final bill, which will be the document that emerges from the House/Senate 'conference committee' -- to which no amendments are permitted; just an up-or-down vote).  But the floor theatrics from Democrats on Friday suggested the GOP had simply dropped a 400-plus page bill on their heads at the very last second, making it impossible for anyone to actually read it.  They also claimed that the final list of amendments (prior to the vote-a-rama, that is) was sprung on them without warning, and had to be leaked to them by lobbyists.  

There was some truth to this framing, but not as much as they'd have you believe. In reality, Senate GOP sources remind me (see this timeline) that the vast majority of the bill had been publicly posted online for weeks.  And each of the Republican amendments hammered out in order to secure 51 votes was filed formally with the clerk; many were also publicly available for days.  What Democrats wanted voters to believe was that a never-before-seen 400-plus page monstrosity was dumped into their laps out of nowhere, then immediately voted upon.  The truth is much more mundane: The legislation was reported out of committee, posted online, then altered in a relatively small number of discrete ways, some of which were significant but all of which were pretty straightforward.  If Republicans were better at PR, they would have taken the giant pile of pages being waved around by Democrats for dramatic effect, and reduced it down to the small fraction of pages that were actually involved in the late-edition amendments.  It would have been a handy, intuitive illustration.  Meanwhile, one of the supposed abuses that Democrats latched onto was the appearance of hand-written changes in the margins of the bill.  Minority whip Sen. Dick Durbin got a lot of mileage out of that one, both in speeches and on social media:

Yes, Senator, what sort of reckless monster would do such a thing?  Oh wait:


One can still argue that this was bad form (I would have preferred to see McConnell offer to let the Democrats stay at work through the weekend to read and read to their hearts' content, but he sided with the old political aphorism, 'when you have the votes, you vote'), but the hyperventilation was hypocritical and misplaced. Republicans' shocking and unprecedented act of legislative malfeasance turned out not to neither terribly shocking, nor remotely unprecedented:  


Also, for reference, Dodd-Frank and tax reform were each passed over very similar time horizons, each either strictly or effectively along party lines.  I'll leave you with this, from a woman who is truly distinguishing herself among a cluster of blowhards who see themselves as the next president:


If she actually believed any of this, she would be relieved to learn that the Republican bill neither forces anyone to lose their healthcare nor disproportionately benefits the top one percent.  But educating the public about the actual substance of the bill wasn't the point, was it?