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March 19th, 2010
06:30 AM ET

Avlon: Partisan politics leads to health care hypocrisy

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the new book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="CNN independent analyst John Avlon says partisanship is trumping principle and eclipsing patriotism in government."]

By John Avlon, Special to CNN

This week, Washington combined high stakes poker and parliamentary procedures with health care reform in the balance. And despite more than a year of heated debate, the American people remain deeply divided on the issue – the only thing they seem to agree on is that D.C. is dysfunctional. A new poll shows Congress with a 17% approval rating.

Part of the reason is an epidemic of situational ethics: politicians reversing supposedly principled stands depending upon whether or not their party is in power.

The most egregious example is support for reconciliation – a measure to ensure an up-or-down vote, bypassing the threat of a filibuster. Republicans have lately been conflating reconciliation with the closely related, controversial (and conveniently scary-sounding) “nuclear option.”

When Larry King asked Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, “what’s wrong with majority rules?” on LKL earlier this week, she replied: “Because that's not how the Senate works. The Senate works with 60 votes. And now, what the president is promoting is a nuclear option, which is 50 votes.”

But the so called “nuclear option” was invoked 5 years ago by Republicans when they accused Democrats of blocking President Bush’s judicial nominations via filibuster.

As then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist explained, “Every judicial nominee brought to the floor should get a fair up or down vote...We were prepared to use this approach. The minority attempted to demean it by calling it the nuclear option surrounding it with the threats of the closure of government stopping this body from working…The proper term for our response is the constitutional option because we would rely on the constitution's power of self-governance to restore senate traditions barring judicial filibusters.”

In other words, Republicans were for forcing up-or-down votes before they were against it. As is so often the case in politics, where you stand is a matter of where you sit.

Democrats have their own flip-flop on the issue – they were against it before they were for it. Here’s New York’s senior Senator Charles Schumer, a master parliamentarian making the case against the nuclear option in 2005.

“We are on the precipice of a crisis, a constitutional crisis. The checks and balances which have been at the core of this republic are about to be evaporated by the nuclear option. The checks and balances which say that if you get 51% of the vote you don’t get your way a 100% of the time. It is amazing, it’s almost a temper tantrum.”

And here’s Senator Schumer this month: “Certainly the bill has to pass both houses, and that's not an easy job, even if we had to go to reconciliation, which is 50. And as I said, that's certainly not off the table.”

Another obscure parliamentary move became part of the political lexicon this week – “deem and pass.” It’s also called the self-executing option – and as Time Magazine’s Karen Tumulty wrote in a hypocrisy-watch blog post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer once condemned Republicans use of the maneuver he’s defending now, saying in 2003, “What kind of demeaning of democracy is the objective of efficiency resulting in?...We do expect that the opportunity to debate legislation be the norm, not the exception.”

Now conservatives are arguing that the “deem and pass” might be unconstitutional – but Nancy Pelosi (alongside Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Congressman Henry Waxman) already tried to make that argument in 2005, signing on to an amicus brief in the case Public Citizen vs. U.S. District Court, which contested Republicans ability to use self-executing rules to raise the debt ceiling.

They argued, as conservatives do now, that it was in violation of the Constitution’s procedure for passing legislation. They lost. The D.C. Circuit Court upheld the GOP’s self-executing actions.

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Irony knows no party divides and the mess that Congress finds itself in can be traced to a basic lack of fairness and foresight. When parties are in power, they often try to muscle through maneuvers they would be outraged by if they were in the minority. And here’s the thing: one day soon they will be – no party remains in power forever in a democracy.

Teddy Roosevelt once said that “decency is the most practical form of politics.” But that wisdom has been lost in a political war of attrition and situational ethics.

In 2005, the so-called “nuclear option” was defused by a centrist “Gang of 14” senators who brokered a deal across party lines. But Congress is even more deeply divided today and the center has too few defenders, as the extremes incite further escalation.

Partisanship is trumping principle and eclipsing patriotism.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

Filed under: Opinion • Politics • Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Howard

    Wake up conservatives, regulation is what the government was created to do. We use it all the time on every level of government. Towns determine how fast you can drive through them, and the FDA regulates what is in our drugs that we take, and the food we eat. The Health Care reform effort was just that, the regulation of how the insurance companies would conduct their business. Conservatives would scream if we let corporations contaminate our foods for children, so whey don't they scream if an insurance company drops a child for some pre existing condition and denies them access to care. Oh I forgot these are the same people that declared ketchup a vegetable for poor kids..Conservatives are also always are yelling about why we need more Jesus related courses in schools, yet they don't think it's a moral issue when someone is dying of cancer and the insurance company is trying to make a 20% profit off of them by denying or delaying care. Conservatives were in power for 6 yrs, and all these problems existed in Health care and they didn't think it was important. They sat in meetings all summer negotiating and came out with death panel lies Why should democrats even think they would negotiate in good faith.. Republicans have signed their soul to the insurance companies, and will do everything to make them richer over the well being of the people. Isn't that what Jesus wanted anyway?

    March 30, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  2. Lorraine

    When interviewing people who are against Health Reform or any Government involvement in assisting American citizens, a few questions should be asked. 1, Does the person have a job? 2, Does the person have access to health care? 3, Does this person have a pre-existing condition or have children with pre-existing conditions? 4, Does this person own a house? 5, Is it in danger of foreclosure? While listening to and reading all negative arguments from people against any Government involvement I wonder how many people would answer 1) Yes, 2) Yes, 3) No, 4) Yes, 5) No. It all depends on your perspective and if you are some of the fortunate who are not in the position of a person who stands to lose everything because of 1 illness then you think about your objections. Put yourself in someone else's place and imagine not being able to have your child treated for a life threatening disease because of lack of insurance and/or money. I just read Barbara Bush entered the hospital for a few days because she was not feeling well. I sincerely hope there is nothing serious wrong but how many Americans have that option. It must be nice.

    March 30, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  3. Patricia M. Kesingrf

    Ross, Which email am I an idiot for? Thanks for the laugh. There are better people than Palin. You must be young, as only young people would call a senior an idiot, who possess a lot more wisdom on politics than you.

    March 29, 2010 at 7:05 am |
  4. Ross

    Patricia M.Kesinger – you are an idiot of the first degree – sound just like palin. are you from alaska?

    March 27, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  5. Doug Thompson

    Thank you, John Avlon, for speaking the truth!

    March 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  6. donald thomas

    AiIN"T it mazing how this country has less controversy and more bipartisan cooperation with supporting WAR than it does with discussing, developing, and helping to enact legislation providing basic needs and protections for our own citizens? It took little time to find someone to hold accountable for lives lost on 9/11 , but can't find the time, intellectual resources, or cooperative energy to solve the health care issues which result in lives lost every day. Are there domestic problems which could have been solved or helped with the brain trust and finances we committed to war with a country that was NOT responsible for 9/11?

    March 27, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  7. mike in sioux falls

    The Republicans and their legion of wingnuts, Tea Partiers, bigots and other dregs of society, like true conservatives are turning back the clock. Once upon a time there was a political party whose supporters vandalized and attacked opponents. They were called National Socialists. The Nazi's believed they were the only ones with the right ideas, they denied compromise and led by intimidation. Another of their favorite rants involved claims of encroaching socialism.
    As an Independent I am not blinded by ideology that places political parties ahead of their service to America. Both parties by their refusal to compromise are accelerating their own demise. The Republicans by their embrace of lunacy and hyperbole are driving away supporters. Right now the Democrats have 2 solid allies: Limbaugh and Beck.

    March 25, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  8. RobinNYC

    No; one HALF of Americans don't want this bill. Yes, it is OUR country, but WE are deeply divided on many issues. Much like that fact that about one HALF of Americans did not want to give up slavery. Yes, our founders fought and died to establish and keep our freedoms. However, with freedom, comes responsibility; yet one HALF of our nation fought and died to keep the brutal, dehumanizing and morally depraved status quo of slavery, which was condoned by our constitution. In addition to self-reliance on the part of the non-land owning classes, there is little if no dispute that the economic prosperity of the US was founded on slave labor and the triangle trade. We became a rich and powerful nation because of it, and the many who benefitted from it were not about to let it go without a fight. Read the actual Lincoln-Douglas Debates (or pick up the audiobook which feels easier to understand as spoken text) and you'll see that Americans' ideological positions were deply at odds back then, too.
    The HALF that doesn't want something, does not suddenly transform a HALF of Americans into "Americans," implying they constitute the whole or even the majority. It is very hard to feel sympathy, kinship, or respect for a person or politcal party that has completely rejected dissenting voices so vehemently for so long, then begins screaming vitriol about not being heard, and about representing what THE PEOPLE want. You might do better to remember that this is the country you SHARE with others who disagree with you on many fronts!

    March 25, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  9. Allan

    One of the first people to anticipate today's type of extremism and violence in politics was Thomas Jefferson, who said that the best defense against it was "a well-informed public".

    Fortunately, CNN and a few other media outlets have been consistently pointing out the political lies and distortions being circulated in the media and on the Internet!

    The liars need to be identified, exposed and discredited before something truly tragic happens!

    March 25, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  10. Doug - Dallas

    We have just seen and thanks to the Party of NO will continue to see how money from corporation lobbyists affects how our "representatives" vote. It is amazing to me that they can always find money to fund their "pork" projects but cannot deliver meaningful health care coverage to the American people. They have increased our deficit by 10 trillion dollars but are worried about the cost of health care. Why is it okay to spend money fighting wars that mean NOTHING to us except the lives of those who died in vain, but not provide Americans with basic health care?

    We rank 37th in the world in delivering health care to our population which is behind many "third world" countries.

    Let the 535 people we elect and their families go without health care coverage for a year and see if it changes their perspective!!!

    March 23, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  11. raine1949

    i work.. not at a high paying job but one that gets me through the week pay cheque to pay cheque.. i have health care insurance costing roughly 30$ a week, (a co-pay amount is needed to see a doctor and health care facility).. just a month ago it went from 15 to 30 a week.. now question i have is.. i make money.. but ... my take home makes me a weekly suvivor and i look for money for food, will this bill benefit me as a person.. do i get my co-pay deduction back ... or in other words is it just to help those that dont work or on a pension of some sort? can i drop outta my plan now and get this government better plan, that way i have a few $ a week to spend on food and clothing and other household expenses? can someone explain it to me please.

    March 22, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  12. James Okumu

    I have long been waiting for this bills to pass. Thanks to those who used their clear common sense to extend the health care, otherwise I don't know what 20 years from now will look like if the healthcare reform is not done.

    March 22, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  13. Patricia M.Kesinger

    I was taught in school from 1st grade to graduation THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION reads: To become a citizen of the UNITED STATES you MUST be able to read, write, and speak the english language to become a U.S. citizen. I have friends who became citizens according to these rules. they are as mad as I am. READ your CONSTITUTION you lazy people.

    March 22, 2010 at 7:45 am |
  14. David Ladely

    My ancestor, John Slack, enlisted three times to fight in the Revolutionary War, and he would be angered by the selfish profit-driven insurance companies and especially the for-profit health care corporations which provide better service to their shareholders than they do the sick Americans. While the Revolutionaries were incensed by the tax on tea, it was the general contemptuous treatment by the British that really fed the fires for revolution. Were they taxed for health care for every man, woman and child, they would likely support a reasonable tax as they were a compassionate people. Profiting over human illness was an alien concept to the nation's founders. The US is the only modern nation that has a for-profit health care establishment that caters to shareholders, with very highly paid top executives; spending far more per capita than any other nation, yet receiving middling results. Such as twice the infant mortality than does Ireland.
    And when profits are threatened, the profiteers panic and vilify anyone who they perceive does not agree with preying on the sick for money.

    March 22, 2010 at 7:33 am |
  15. Erik Halleus

    OK, it is time to vote out ALL incumbents!!! Democrats for what they did, Republicans for what they did not do. And after the non-action to tort reform, it is time to consider all lawyers and attorneys as crooks and NEVER, EVER vote them into any political office! If the Healthcare system is not good enough for the people in Congress, it is not good enough for us, the US citizens. So let's get some firemen, school teachers and college students elected in to congress, not only individuals with connections or money.

    March 22, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  16. David Ladely

    The Republicans would change their tune if they had to deal with for-profit insurance companies and for-profit health care if anyone in their family had a pre-existing illness that became life-threatening.
    Hypocrisy seems to be an essential element in their philosophy, along with selfishness, lack of compassion, and greed. Health care IS a right of every American, not a for-profit enterprise, and not a privilege for the privileged.
    This bill may save my life. I had rheumatic fever, which damaged my heart valves much as happened to Bobby Darin.
    Infections can go to the damaged valve, and can be fatal.
    The best prevention is to replace the damaged valve.
    The problem I have had is that all the insurance companies say this is a pre-existing illness and therefore replacing the heart valve is not covered even if my life is in grave danger and replacing the valve is the only effective treatment to save my life. Had Bobby Darin been able to have his damaged heart valve replaced, he would not have died as he did and would probably be alive today. And would not have had repeat hospitalizations, as he had before he died, after the replacement.
    The bill just passed prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing health problems, so if it becomes necessary to replace my damaged heart valve, the operation would be covered.
    I am sure this provision alone in the bill will save many many lives and, as in my case, would cure the health problem so that I can avoid future probable hospitalizations due to infection of the valve. Also, a new valve would make my heart work much more efficiently and prolong my life. As far as I am concerned, denying life saving health treatment is murder, and denying for the excuse of being a pre-existing illness is pre-meditated murder.

    March 22, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  17. Patricia M.Kesinger

    Health care passing means this: Parents to kids, sorry I cannot feed you I will be fined if I do not have health insurance. Grandparents raising or caring for grandkids, sorry can not take care of you anymore, the government said I am to old for necessary surgery and medicines I need. I am a senior citizen. So people who benefits from this? More jobs going overseas, welcome illegals. Welcome to communist rule.

    March 22, 2010 at 7:06 am |
  18. Clay Quesenberry

    I was never a big follower of Governmental proceedings until Obama became president. Until then I voted and stood back. After this Heath care debate came to the fore front I watched CNN every day too see how it was panning out. Not being used to watching developments in politics I was absolutely astounded at the lack of cooperation between the two parties on this issue. I watched as the Health care issue became so cloudy and volatile you just didn't know who's right and whose wrong. It is shameful that such an important issue has been kicked around so much that your average American cannot even tell you what is and isn't at stake. Politicians are so preoccupied with their own personal agendas that they cannot be trusted to make a rational decision on any level. I miss the days where I stayed a few steps back from politics and was blissfully ignorant. At least in those days I would defend the character of our governmental officials. Not any more!

    March 22, 2010 at 6:47 am |
  19. libpearls

    Finally someone is telling it like it is!!!

    March 21, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  20. Worried and disgusted

    By the time this is all over, I fear that congress will be so devided, so ful of acrimony, that it will be virtually impossible for them to accomplish anything else the rest of this administration. Sad.

    Can't we all just get along?

    March 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  21. ronvandm

    I am totally fed up with this whole mess! At this point the "children" that we have elected couldn't make an accurate statement if their lives depended on it! Now that the Budget office has come out with their cost/savings figures the dems are satisfied and the reps. are screaming, in no short terms, that they are wrong, corrupt, and influenced by the white house. Yet, everyone still says that the present health system is messed up. It really doesn't make any difference if the bill becomes law. All the "companies" making billions will just raise rates to offset any loss'es.

    March 20, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  22. Patrick

    The segment today, toward the end made the claim that conservative democrats feel left out. Who's Max Baucus then? What about Lieberman, with the 41st vote against the public option?

    And then we have stupak – who insists there is something in the bill that simply doesn't exist. I have to assume he's getting paid.

    March 20, 2010 at 2:15 am |
  23. J.V.Hodgson

    First off I think Republicans need reminding that the majority party has an uncanny knack of putting forward legislative proposals that are of course ideologically, leaning in thier supporters and voters direction.
    Next that, like it or not they can talk about back room law making but at the end of the day they can thru debate in the House and Senate and the potential for filibuster in the Senate influence the final legislation.
    They can also cry foul about Reconciliation and Deeming, all of which they have used in the past and are procedural, Court approved and voted by republicans and Democrats as ways to do business,and therefore are a distraction to the issue being debated just like death panels, abortion and illegal immigrants coverage. and of course because it suits them claim the CBO figures they used in the past are unreliable!!
    So, I find Republicans being not only Hypocritical, but denying a majority party to use procedures they agreed to = disingenuos and not bipartisan in attitude, since through out the main purpose was made clear "Kill the bill" and that = Obama's waterloo!! "Start over" They even threatened not to meet with Obama for his summit. And Boehners face each time he looked at the president was total disdain. Add to that 47 government poaition nominations ( needing senate approval) being black balled by a single pork seeking Republican!!
    Finally they add insult to Injury by claiming that because current American health care costs double that in any other western developed nation, it mus QED be the best, not true because those nations have 100% coverage for all no pre-condition restrictions, or annual ,or life time spend caps for care, which America has and still leaves 15% of its nation uninsured, and no ideas how to correct that moral necessity, and that is not Socialism, it's biblical necessity.
    Republicans believe the constitution etc that we are all born equal, but it got updated to add " yes it's just that some of us are more equal than others!"

    March 20, 2010 at 1:33 am |
  24. Kathryn Richardson

    One thing these politicians don't seem to see is that the American people are angry with both parties for their juvenile actions. The republicans are always using the expression "the American people don't want this or that or they do want this or that". How do they know what the American people want....they are too busy thinking about themselves and their silver-lined pockets. They and some democrats make me sick. We need the public option and there should be funding for abortions in the bill or a stipulation that men keep their zippers closed or use birth control!!!!!!

    March 20, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  25. Patsy

    HEALTH CARE IS TOO IMPORTANT NOT TO GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME AROUND. And if it takes a while longer to do it and get it right, then it would be worth it.
    Besides if it was so dire that we needed health care then it should have been passed when Clinton was in office.
    And for those who think it will start helping them right away is mistaken. It will be years before we see any benefits out of this.
    All the behind closed doors or as a guest on air force one deals for certain states should null and void any credability to this issue.
    All this has nothing to do with health care for Americans
    This bill should only deal with health care and not include any pork or special deals just to get a yes vote from those who are trying to do the right thing by voting this monstrosity out.
    And who is going to pay for all of this? You can bet it won't be anyone that is trying to cram it down Americans throats. And by the way do you realize that if you do not take this out you will have to pay a fine? And how you gonna pay that fine when no one in your family has a job or the job you have you just barely can afford to exist?
    Don't get me wrong, I am for health care, but not this one as it is written. Lets start over and make it right.

    March 19, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  26. Russell

    A great article.
    US needs more "truth searchers" in the correspondent field.
    Thought this story was unbiased. And true.
    Good job.

    March 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  27. will

    you should make sure to expose the fact that this bill will make people buy converage. The American people mistakenly think they are going to receive free health insurance.

    March 19, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  28. tc

    Incredible! Are the Democrate so ashamed of this bill that they do not want to sign their name or show up on record? Does Speaker Pelosi think that the vast majority of the voters are dimwitted?
    Very sorry Mr. President, you shot a little more of your credibility in the foot when you said you wanted more " Open communication, less infighting and then allowed reform to become a huge isssue where certain states, and people get " special " consideration for help with this bill. But don't worry, the " deem and pass' is such a wonderful idea. Now future President's and Future Elected officials know the magic words to institute policy that effect all of us. Can I fix my taxes and other personal problems this way?

    A Question for those who vote for this bill, Will The President and Congress trade in their own health care for the bill that is being " given to Us"

    One more little question- How do student loans managed by the federal government relate to health Care?

    March 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  29. Teschman

    I called about this piece this a.m. As I watched and listened, I was appalled at the lack of understanding about the difference between what is currently being proposed, the procedure called Reconciliation, which was used numerous times by the GOP to pass a number of far reaching pieces of legislation, and the GOP proposed "Nuclear Option" back in 95. First it was originally called "The Constitutional Option", whereby the Senate could at any time vote by simple majority to change it's RULES! They proposed changing the vote on Judicial nominees to a simple majority. It's totally different than Reconciliation, which was put in place by Senator Byrd to apply to budget related issues requiring only a simple majority vote.
    The piece was misleading, lacked real content in fact and frankly an example of very poor journalism on CNN's part. Calling yourself the most trusted name in news exampling this piece is like calling Fox News "fair and balanced'. I believe it should be corrected.

    March 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  30. jmz

    The main point is this. America does NOT want this bill Period! America is beginning to wake up. We are beginning to see how far off the path our founders fought and died for and it is WRONG. You can argure these procedures have been used in the past, but that does not make it right. America is founded on self reliance, and the people telling the govt whats best, not the other way around. Obama is a fool! why? because he wasted so much time and energy on forcing a bill that WE DO NOT WANT down our throats, he has NO choice but to see it to the end. He could have scrapped it, focused on jobs, and then came back to it with REAL bipartisan common sense ideas and he could have been loved for it. But he is too busy trying to prove that he knows whats best for everyone, too busy saying how everything is Bushes fault, too busy trying to be liked all flash and no substance. Look at his poll numbers. no other president has ever dropped that far in 1 yr. 70+ approval rating down to low to mid 40's. He lost the most lib dem state in the union and all he can do is blame others. NOW he says "he does not worry about procedures"!?!? do people understand that? do people get that one of the biggest things thant seperate us from a dictatorship is thoes 'pesky procedures' that obama alot of people don't care about. and before someone climbs on me about bush doing it I DONT CARE!. bush is gone, obama is pres now and it is WRONG no matter who does it PERIOD!!. Obama better wake up to fact that thoes procedures are his sole reason for being. he better understand real quick that people are awake, they are aware, and they are madder than they have ever been..and he is responsible. he better start listening. He better remember how America was founded because we were sick of our leaders not listening to us, and our will, and not obeying 'procedures'. We fought 1 revolution already, hes not qualified tofight another. This is OUR country, OUR rules OUR lives. the constitution is the supreme law of the land and you WILL obey it. We were lax before i admit..but not anymore

    March 19, 2010 at 6:51 am |