Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dems Get Rooked by House GOP on Healthy Kids

I think the Republicans pulled a smooth double cross on Jeff Merkley and the House Democrats today, attempting to insulate their most vulnerable members from an unpopular vote they were casting to block the Healthy Kids Act. It worked like a charm. Now--despite offering all manner of untoward bribes in order to get individual Republicans to cave, and believing that in a war of attrition they were just one vote away--Democrats (and uninsured kids) have lost the battle, the campaign advantage on the issue next fall, and very possibly for such a politically twisted idea as a constitutional referral on a cigarette tax, the war.

It's certainly possible they did what they did for some other reason, or it was mere coincidence and everyone voted their conscience both Monday and Tuesday...but I doubt it. Here's what happened: on Monday the Democrats put the bill up for a vote, having slashed the coverage to only about 3/4 of the children they had promised to cover and offered several breaks to sweeten the pot for Republicans. They got within one vote when Brian Boquist and Sal Esquivel voted yes along with John Lim, plus Vicki Berger who actually appears to want the bill to pass.

On Tuesday, thinking they just needed to pressure one of the vulnerable Republicans like Donna Nelson or perhaps Patti Smith to vote yes out of fear that they'd be hit hard with this vote next fall, the Democrats scheduled another vote and laid on the press. And lo and behold, both Nelson AND Smith switched their votes to yes, as did Bob Jenson. Victory! No, wait--Boquist and Esquivel switched their vote from yesterday, and Democrat Brian Cannon was off having a it still failed by one vote.

If Republicans wanted to kill HK legislation (leaving only the clumsy Constitutional referral), but they didn't want to be punished for it at election time, what would be the good thing to do? How about have your vulnerable people vote BOTH ways, as long as the majority is going to schedule two votes in a row? Then when the charge comes up that they blocked Healthy Kids they can say, "But no, see here I voted FOR it, in a slightly different form I preferred." Then the Democrats will try to call out the flip flop flim flam, but it will all get lost in countercharges and the GOP will have confused the issue into irrelevancy.

I think Merkley knew it too, and he acted and spoke like a guy who knew he'd been had:
Meeting with reporters following the vote, House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, said he had the required 36 votes pledged when he went on the floor, even without Cannon there. But Merkley said he received a note during the debate that one of the "yes" votes had become a "no." He wouldn't say who it was.

"It's my style," Merkley said. "I'm not going to attack someone. They have to live with their change of decision."

Even so, Merkley said he isn't certain that the bill would have passed had Rep. Cannon been at the Capitol.
To not be certain when you know there were 35 yes votes and Cannon makes 36, is to say that you believe there may have been vote decoying afoot. Much like it seems clear that vulnerable national Republicans were given the release to vote for cloture on AG Gonzales because the motion was doomed to fail, these were controlled vote switches by the caucus, not changes of heart by individual members.

I'm almost hopeful it goes nowhere now, beaten and lame as it is, larded with giveaways just to plead for votes on something they damn well should be voting on totally clean. It's unbecoming behavior. The urge to come out having made a deal is harming the bill, and while it's easy for me to say because my kid has health coverage, it's already selling kids short and still the GOP is playing games with the perpetually earnest Democrats. They don't like governing; they just like winning. And it should be clear to everyone that the unrepentantly out of touch hard right wing is still running the state GOP. Is that what you want, Oregon?