The Obama Watch

Democrats Against Democracy

Up or down vote? What up or down vote?

By 3.17.10

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For weeks, President Obama has been demanding an "up or down vote" on health care legislation. So where is the president now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she would like to pass the Senate health care bill in the House without allowing an up or down vote on it? 

Pelosi signaled on Monday that she favors Rep. Louise Slaughter's proposal to pass the health care bill, in the words of the Washington Post, "without having members vote on it." Using a House rule called a "self-executing rule," members would vote on a package of amendments to the Senate bill, and the passage of those changes would by rule "deem" the Senate bill passed. But the House would never vote on the Senate bill itself. 

That's an awfully peculiar step to take for a party that has spent the last few weeks clamoring about how democratic it would be to do away with the filibuster so we could at last have a simple majority vote on the health care bill in the Senate. What's democratic about voting on a bill without voting on it? And by the way, the self-executing rule also curtails floor debate and disallows amendments. Hail, democracy! 

The talk about democracy is all self-serving spin, of course. The president wants this bill and he's perfectly happy to use every procedure at his disposal to limit the right of the minority in Congress -- specifically because he knows that minority represents the will of the majority of Americans on this particular issue. 

If the President had a majority of the people on his side, he wouldn't have to resort to parliamentary trickery to pass this bill. It is precisely because "democracy" is turning against him that he is rushing to muscle this thing into law before the next election. That is when, by all accounts, the majority appears likely to turn his party into a minority -- primarily out of anger and frustration at being treated not like citizens participating in their own government but subjects receiving dictates from on high. 

This is not the administration Americans thought they were electing in 2008. Back then, Obama promised to unify the country. He promised to halt "business as usual" in Washington and bring everyone together to reach common ground. In fact, he said he would do on health care exactly the opposite of what he is doing now. 

Former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen recalled this week what Obama said during his editorial board meeting with the Concord Monitor back in October of 2007. Campaigning as the Great Unifier, he said then, "We're not going to pass universal health care with a, with a 50-plus-one strategy." 

Today, he is trying to pass universal health care with a 50-plus-one strategy. And in the health care plan he is trying to pass is a personal coverage mandate that he also said on the campaign trail he didn't support. 

If the president were true to his campaign promises, he would immediately nix the Slaughter scheme and demand a real, fair vote on health care legislation. But everyone who went looking for those health care meetings on C-SPAN already knows he isn't true to his campaign promises. 

Obama doesn't care if his quest for this massive reworking of American health care splits the country apart. He doesn't care if it raises taxes on the middle class or increases the deficit or forces people to change insurance plans they love or doesn't actually fix the things it is supposed to fix. He cares if he goes down in the history books as the president who got health care reform passed. 

That's not the kind of president most Americans who voted for Obama thought they were getting. But that's the kind of president they got. It's no wonder so many of them are suffering from buyer's remorse only a year into his term.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.