Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Private Editor, No. 3: A Study in Contrasts

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Anti-Union Bill (NYT February 26, 2011) Excerpts

Over shouts of protest from Democrats, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill in the early morning hours Friday that would strip state employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. But there was no sign that a stalemate over the proposal would end, as Democrats in the Senate remained out of the state after fleeing to prevent their own vote on the proposal. The 51-to-17 vote just after at 1 a.m. drew boos and shouts of “Shame! Shame!” from Democrats who said that leaders had abruptly cut off debate and prevented more than a quarter of the legislators from casting votes… Democrats said the early-morning vote showed that Republicans had little interest in negotiating. They “rushed a vote in seconds, cheating Democratic representatives of the opportunity to vote against this horrible legislation” …“Then they fled the chamber surrounded by armed law enforcement agents.” Republicans said the Assembly debated the bill long enough during a three-day Democratic filibuster. Mr. Walker said in a statement, “The 14 Senate Democrats need to come home and do their jobs, just like the Assembly Democrats did.”

Final Votes in Congress Cap Battle on Health Bill (NYT March 25, 2010) Excerpts

Congress on Thursday gave final approval to a package of changes to the Democrats’ sweeping health care overhaul, capping a bitter partisan battle over the most far-reaching social legislation in nearly half a century…The Senate voted after running through an obstacle course of Republican amendments and procedural objections, which kept lawmakers working through Wednesday night until 3:30 a.m. Thursday…Republicans, raising procedural challenges, identified small flaws that struck out two minor provisions. Those changes forced the bill to be sent back to the House one more time…The Senate approved the measure shortly after 2 p.m. Senators cast their votes standing individually at their desks, a ceremonial gesture reserved for historic occasions….The vote came after Senate Democrats defeated more than 40 Republican amendments intended to delay or derail the legislation…Exuberant Democrats celebrated the vote in the corridors of the Capitol. Republicans, reacting somberly, said they would carry their opposition to the bill into the fall campaign….In a floor speech, the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, derided the legislation as “a sloppy mess that the majority of the American people believe should be repealed and replaced.”

I find these two accounts a study in contrasts.

The Wisconsin account draws a picture of beleaguered Democrats denied their right to cast votes (symbolic given their small numbers) after the Republicans abruptly cut off debate (after a three –day filibuster, no less.) and rushed a vote in seconds. The cowardly Republicans then fled the chamber (unlike the heroic Democrat senators who fled the state) protected by armed guards. The article simply states that the Democrat senators fled the state “to avoid a vote” without commenting on the unusual anti-democratic nature of such an action, other than to report the Governor’s call for them to return and do their jobs.

The account of the passage of the “historic” health care legislation shows House and Senate democrats fulfilling a historic mission navigating the “obstacle course” of minor Republican amendments and procedural objections designed to delay or derail the legislation. The article admits the historic nature of the legislation (Senators standing in a gesture “reserved for historic occasions”) without noting the questionable procedural gyrations used to pass it using budget reconciliation. The House Republican leader’s characterization of the legislation as “a sloppy mess” is reserved for the end of the piece.

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