Cash For Cloture

logrolling-cartoon-1965Someone, perhaps this commenter at ABC’s The Note, has coined “Cash for Cloture” to describe the outrageous giveaways agreed to by the Senate Democratic leadership to buy off the last few Senators to get to 60 votes on the health care bill.  It’s spreading fast, with Mark Steyn and Glenn Reynolds employing the meme and Michelle Malkin using the coinage and compiling a “bribe list.”

It’s a funny play on “Cash for Clunkers” and a good way to call attention to what is in fact a rather egregious abuse.

Responding to Republican Eric Cantor’s observation that “They’re allocating taxpayer dollars as if those dollars belonged to the senators. It borders on immoral,” Steyn snorts, “You can’t even dignify this squalid racket as bribery: If I try to buy a cop, I have to use my own money. But, when Harry Reid buys a senator, he uses my money, too. It doesn’t ‘border on immoral’: It drives straight through the frontier post and heads for the dark heartland of immoral.”


But here’s the thing:  This is how our system works and has worked since time immemorial.  Discussions of logrolling and pork barrel politics have been part of introductory American politics courses since, oh, the advent of introductory American politics courses.    The terms were coined in 1835 (by Davy Crockett, no less) and 1863 (by Edward Everett Hale).  Let’s just say Harry Reid didn’t invent them.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shine a light on these abuses.  By all means, we should.  But let’s not pretend that they’re a recent invention.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mpw280 says:

    It really takes balls for these idiots to “investigate” bribery paid out in Afghanistan by the military while they are handing out multiple 100 million dollar bribes to buy senators to vote for this pos bill, which noone has read or can understand. As to business as usual, the scope of the bribes is utterly despicable and if bribes that big are needed to roll the country what does it say of the bill and the idiots pushing it? It sucks, would be my guess. mpw

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    It may have been around since time immemorial but the size of the bribes is something new. The seeds of discontent continue to be planted at an alarming rate by our government.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    There is probably a point where a tradition becomes so corrupted as to become a difference in kind. Everett Dirksen, pictured in the cartoon, described logrolling as: “You help me roll my log and I’ll help you [r]oll yours.” In his example, the farm mice are arguing with each other over farm subsidies. The city mice, who aren’t terribly interested in the subject, see an opportunity, and agree to help one set of farm mice in exchange for support of legislation to help labor unions. In other words, the deal is struck across areas of relative disinterest, and not for the compensation of a single legislator or legislative district.

  4. alkali says:

    Cry me a river. If a handful of GOP senators had been willing to vote for cloture — not for the bill itself, just a vote to permit the bill to come to the floor for a vote — no Democratic senator would have been in a position to demand any such concession.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Also, add the special legislation for Nebraska in the bill (as I understand it) would be clearly unconstitutional in many states. Legislators simply can’t make deals by proscribing different sets of rules or financial obligations for legislative districts. You can do it indirectly, but I think the Nebraska deal is going to look particularly crass in many parts of the country.

  6. Herb says:

    These “bribes”…an unintended consequence of the need to get a 60-vote super majority?

  7. Drew says:

    I think Steve Plunk makes the appropriate point.

    We sometimes cavalierly note that “its always been this way.” But at some point the bribes and the issue grows (we are talking 1/6th of the economy now, just for health care) to a point where we crush the private sector.

    I think we are there.

  8. steve says:

    As long as we have total oppositional politics, this will continue. Mediocre legislation with payoffs to Senator 58, 59 and 60.


  9. Rick DeMent says:

    It may have been around since time immemorial but the size of the bribes is something new.

    Spoken like someone with no real grasp on US political history. Nothing really new here at all. Business has pretty much always run government. It has been the rare times in history where the government actually got to do something for the good of the people rather then lining everyone pockets and I don’t even think I’m being all that cynical for saying it.

    The large majority of the top financial scandals were all before the turn of the last century, Yazoo Land (this one was gong on while the ink was drying on the constitution in 1795), Credit Mobilier, Whiskey ring. to name a few … Teapot Dome was in the 20’s. In real terms these are still some of the biggest in US history. The only post war scandal that even makes the grade is the S&L scandal (until the current housing market is sorted out and people go to jail.)

  10. just me says:

    While I would still probably be bothered, I find the fact that nebraska is getting to avoid their share of medicaid payments at the federal taxpayer expense, no other state gets the deal. If Nelson had just been bought with funding for some pet project, it would stink, but could easily be seen as how business is done, but his state and his state alone gets extra funding for specific issues in the actual bill. This isn’t just another earmark, it is changing an obligation in the bill so that his state and his state alone gets extra taxpayer money to fund it.

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    Rick, Sure financial scandals have been around but again the size of this is what is different. Why question my grasp of history when I’m right?

    The Teapot Dome was a straight bribery case equivalent to millions of dollars, not billions, not trillions. We have trillions at stake.

    Each scandal has it’s own peculiarities so comparing them sometimes doesn’t work.

  12. tom p says:

    Business has pretty much always run government.

    “The business of America is business”
    Can’t remember who said that, but it stands on it’s own.

    The Teapot Dome was a straight bribery case equivalent to millions of dollars, not billions, not trillions. We have trillions at stake.

    Adjust for inflation Steve, and get back to me.

    In the meanwhile, where was all this outrage when Bush was making deals for his first tax cut? His second tax cut? (Oooooohhhh, wait a minute… “deficits don’t matter”) Or Medicare Part D? Or Iraq? Or Afghanistan? (Oooooooohhhh… wait a minute, Afghanistan was a war on the cheap and Iraq was going to “pay for itself”)(and Medicare Part D was going to insure the “Permenant Republican Majority”??????????)

    gag me with a spoon… I am sick and tired of conservatives who have rediscovered the Holy Grail of “Fiscal Conservatism”…

    I feel the need to remind all that it was a DEMOCRATIC president and a REPUBLICAN congress that had this country on the road to fiscal sanity. But it only took one election, 2 wars, and 8 more years to send the whole thing to hell in a hand basket.

    Blow me. Really. Blow me.

  13. Rick DeMent says:

    “Rick, Sure financial scandals have been around but again the size of this is what is different. Why question my grasp of history when I’m right?”

    … ah cause your not right? Do some math using that inflation calculator thingy on the internets.

    I chuckle when people start caterwauling about the spending going on … like the stimulus bill for instance. The single biggest line item in that one was a tax cut. If a someone with an R after named proposed the exact same thing they would make them a saint. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard a “fiscal conservative” bash a tax cut. The fact is that any plan that gets us back on the road to fiscal solvency that does not involve tax increases is just retarded.

    repeat after me borrowing money from the Chinese and redistributing it as “tax cut” is not fiscal conservatism … it’s stupid. And as much as I personally railed again the tax cuts during the Bush administration which was nothing but a wealth transfer from the middle class to the wealthy, now is simply not the time to be worried about deficits, we can worry about that when people get back to work (if ever, and if they don’t it doesn’t matter we’re all screwed no matter what we do).