Today, concerned citizens, we will consider when we want our elected representatives to just throw in the towel and get something done.
This comes up less often than you might think. On Wednesday, for instance, members of the House of Representatives had a choice between casting a meaningless “no” vote on a budget bill or supporting a plan that fails to do anything positive, including, um, add up.
The budget is not a real law so much as a blueprint of where the majority party stands. This year, the Republican majority in the House is in favor of putting a ton of new money into defense without actually paying for it. Plus cutting programs that help poor people, and ending Medicare as we know it for Americans now younger than 56.
Grab the picket signs, 55-year-olds. Once again, they’re out to get you.
The bill I’m thinking of is different. It’s a bipartisan plan cooked up by John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi. (Question: What do you imagine when you think of those two cooking? Macbeth or Cupcake Wars?)
The subject was another fiscal cliff. Next week, Medicare payments to doctors are scheduled to drop by 21 percent. The formula for reimbursement is all screwed up, and Congress is always having to put in a last-minute fix. But this bill does not just kick the can down the road. It actually solves the problem. It fixes the formula and pays for the solution by raising the cost of Medicare for the wealthiest recipients. Plus, it’s got money for community health clinics and the CHIP health care program for children.
Boehner and Pelosi kept their negotiations supersecret, but, when they unveiled their bill, the House members seemed pretty darned happy. The Rules Committee approved it Wednesday with a voice vote, and much self-congratulations.
“A kumbaya moment.”
“This bill is not perfect.” (Lawmakers only call something “not perfect” when they’re seriously trying to resolve a problem. Otherwise, it’s the most wonderful and important piece of legislation in a decade, and it turns out they’re repealing Obamacare again.)
You know there’s a catch, right? Well, the Senate Democrats hate it.
They hate the fact that the children’s health program, which they’ve been working on extending for another four years, will be extended for only two. “The Democrats are going to stick together here,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told The Times. “I don’t see how you say yes to doctors and no to 10 million children.”
And they hate that the bill includes the Hyde amendment, banning federal funding for abortions. This is a particularly sore point. “Our goal is to repeal Hyde,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood. “It’s bad for women; it hurts their health; it damages poor women, in particular, and this is an unnecessary compromise.”
Laguens is certainly right about the Hyde amendment being terrible, and you’d be shocked if she felt differently about the bill. Planned Parenthood’s job is to support women’s reproductive choices, not keep the Medicare program from being messed up.
But the Hyde amendment has been in appropriations for decades. It’s pretty much chiseled in stone. The pro-choice caucus in the House supports the health care bill, which the members have concluded makes no change in the status quo.
“I don’t like it,” Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., grumbled in the Rules Committee meeting. But, he told the group that if Louise Slaughter, the pro-choice caucus co-chair, was satisfied “and Nancy Pelosi is satisfied, then I guess I should shut up.”
Most of the Senate Democrats seem to have gone from declaring war to grumbling under their breath. You can understand why they’re miserable. Some of them have been working on these health issues for years, and all of a sudden they discover that Pelosi and Boehner have made a secret deal without giving them the least bit of input. It is yet another bruising wound in the greatest enmity in Washington, which is not Republicans versus Democrats but House members versus senators.
Also, there was that unfortunate situation last week when the Senate Democrats bottled up a bill to help the victims of human trafficking because they discovered a tiny clause expanding the rules against funding for abortion. It was a totally righteous battle, except for the part where the Democrats had failed to notice the language was in the bill until the last minute. But now everyone is dug in, and if the Boehner-Pelosi bill passes, the senators will be helping the doctors before they help the sex-trafficking victims.
So what would you do, people? I’d vote for throwing in the towel. When you’re in the minority, there’s a limit to how good any deal is going to look. Doing anything that’s a little bit more than desperate paddling is an achievement these days. The Senate ought to pass the bill. Just don’t call it a kumbaya moment.