During 14 years in the Michigan Legislature and 11 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Smith had never experienced anything like it. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, in the wee hours last Saturday morning, pressed him to vote for the Medicare bill. But Smith refused. Then things got personal..The Republicans stole the Medicare vote pure and simple. A majority of the House went on record during the vote against the bill, but House Republican leaders kept the vote open an embarrassing three hours to switch already-cast votes. House Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign for allowing this travesty. He had an obligation to protect the House majority—meaning the majority that voted against the bill, not the Republican majority—from this abuse of process. The House was essentially kept in session until they yielded to the White House’s demands, robbing the chamber of its constitutional independence and integrity. Frankly, the House GOP’s misconduct mirrors the Democrats’ shenanigans in Florida three years ago. It was wrong then, and it’s certainly wrong now.
Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.
But then again, maybe it’s appropriate the GOP resorted to Democratic tactics. After all, the bill is largely indistinguishable from what Democrats wanted; they only voted against the bill to deny President Bush a political victory. Similarly, the White House’s decision to steal the victory reflected the President’s final descent into pragmatist Hell. We knew the White House had abandoned the façade of protecting individual rights a long time ago—witness campaign finance “reform,” backing down on affirmative action, and expanding antitrust regulation—but the Medicare bill was an outright attack on free-market principles.
You can argue political arm-twisting is part of the process. I can accept that if the process itself is geared towards the ideological debate of issues. But here the Republicans’ openly stated objective was to stifle any debate on Medicare in favor of political expediency. Rep. Smith’s objections were based in facts and principles, two things that are foreign to the Bush administration.
Novak said renegade Republicans “were warned that if this measure failed, the much more liberal Democratic bill would be brought up and passed.” This is curious. Why would the liberal Democratic bill pass? Republicans still have a House majority; did the leadership mean to suggest it would vote for a Democratic bill just to get something passed and spite the principled conservatives? If that’s the case, the Republicans aren’t just irrational, but suicidal.