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Congressmen, or Six Year Olds ?

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner became something of an Internet sensation yesterday after this rant against Republican opposition to a bill designed to grant health benefits to 9/11 first responders:

Weiner appeared the next morning with Republican Congressman Peter King, also from New York, and the rant continued:

So, what’s this all about ?

If that’s at all possible, here’s where it gets even more stupid:

In short, the story of Anthony Weiner and the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act is a parable of how obstruction, political brinksmanship, and an aversion to putting principle over politics – by both parties – resulted in institutional gridlock of both comic and tragic proportions.

Make no mistake, the Zadroga Act is very popular on both sides of the aisle: It has 115 co-sponsors in the House, including 15 Republicans. The bill would set aside money to pay the health-care costs for first responders to the 9/11 attacks in New York City, many of whom deal with respiratory issues caused by the dust and debris that day.

Yet on Thursday, only 12 Republicans voted for the bill, and it failed.

Why?

Politics.

Ahead of elections, parties tend to slowly abandon actual achievement in favor of forcing the opposition to take a “poison pill” – forcing a vote that might prove to be embarrassing, and thus good campaign fodder.

In this case, Republicans decided earlier this week to introduce an amendment to the Zadroga Act that would prevent any first responders who were illegal immigrants from collecting the health benefits.

There had been no serious discussion previously about whether any 9/11 responders were illegal immigrants. But getting Democrats to vote in favor of benefits for any potential illegal immigrants would anger voters in conservative districts. Voting against it would anger Hispanics – a key Democratic constituency.

Republicans wanted to set up a lose-lose situation for Democrats.

Of course, there were also many conscientious objections to the bill by Republicans, arguing that there was already a fund for these responders and that the bill, as written, encourages waste and fraud and adds to an already enormous deficit.

Yet the math suggested the bill, without any amendments, had more than enough votes to pass.

So the Democrats responded in kind.

Instead of allowing Republicans to tack on controversial and potentially damaging amendments, the majority employed a procedure to preclude any new amendments. The caveat: Now the Zadroga Act needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

In essence, Democrats made their own “poison pill” out of the bill. The two-thirds threshold forced Republicans either to willingly eat humble pie or to oppose the bill and be open to charges that they were abandoning the heroes of 9/11.

And, the bill fell 35 votes short of 2/3 majority, thus leading to Weiner’s rant on the House floor and King claiming that this is all about “procedure.”

There are no good actors here, of course. The Republicans are at fault to tacking on amendments about illegal immigration that have a clear political motivation to a bill that most of them already support anyway. The Democrats are at fault for taking a risky procedural move designed to prevent Republicans from offering any amendments at all, and then ranting when Republicans vote no.

It’s all stupid, and petty, and childish.

And, it’s American politics circa 2010.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grampagravy says:

    The Republican Party abandoned “actual achievement” when the vote counting was over in November 08. I guess we’re just having an extra long election season.

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  2. Dave says:

    I understand the tendency to fault both sides of a stupid and embarrassing situation but the Republican sin here is much worse than the Democrat sin. Republicans want to add a poison pill to kill a popular piece of legislation that will benefit 9/11 First Responders. That’s a bad thing. Democrats employ procedural rules to prevent Republicans from doing that bad thing. How are the Dems just as bad?

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  3. JKB says:

    Not 6-yr olds but rather 13-yr olds in the girl wars of middle school.  The kind that builds the eye-rolling camaraderie that a certain senator expounded about recently.

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  4. Herb says:

    “The Republicans are at fault to tacking on amendments about illegal immigration that have a clear political motivation to a bill that most of them already support anyway. The Democrats are at fault for taking a risky procedural move designed to prevent Republicans from offering any amendments at all, and then ranting when Republicans vote no. ”

    I know I’m the biased liberal, but this isn’t “pox on both houses” time. It’s time to ask what it will take to get Republicans to vote yes on bills they should be supporting. Clearly they’re not going to do it unless they can simultaneously make the Dems look bad.

    We should not be surprised when the Dems don’t play along with that particular game…..

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  5. I guess the Democrats/liberals were on to something when they said Republicans want illegals to die…

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  6. ratufa says:

    At this point, everyone understands the Republican strategy : Make Democrats look as bad and ineffective as possible so they can take advantage of it in November. The Republicans valued continuing their November strategy over passing the bill — the amendment regarding illegal immigrants was proposed to prevent the bill from passing. If the Democrats hadn’t precluded adding new amendments, the Republicans would have kept on proposing amendments until the Dems gave up on passing it. This is the way the game is played.

    One reason this strategy works is that the mainstream media likes to use a “both sides are to blame” narrative when reporting on it. But, in this case, both sides aren’t equally to blame and spinning it that way just encourages this type of obstruction. I understand why reporters generally don’t take sides — it can be hard to wade through the details enough to understand what really happened, it doesn’t make your job easier if you piss off the people you’re reporting on, political parties are pretty aggressive about pushing back on reporting that they don’t like, and there’s a chance you’ll get it wrong if you assign most of the blame to one side.

    But, I don’t understand why Doug, who seems like a pretty reasonable guy, feels he needs to exhibit the same even-handedness when writing for a blog.

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  7. Herb says:

    Here’s another bill the Republicans are doing their best to block:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38499710/ns/politics/

    Steve Plunk, this one’s for you. Obama’s trying to help small businesses, but the Republicans say “NO!”

    For those of you who can’t stomach MSNBC because of your stunted political growth…here’s the same story on Foxnews.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/07/31/obama-blames-gop-stalled-small-business-lending/

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  8. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:
     
    Funny you should mention that, because lately I’ve been thinking that schoolyards are beginning to look a lot like Congress.  What with all the convoluted rules and restrictions of natural impulses, we are now in the era where a decent punchup is on the same list as a nuclear holocaust.  Sic transit gloria.
     

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