The scandal that slipped through the cracks

THE SCANDAL THAT SLIPPED THROUGH THE CRACKS…. In an early-Saturday vote, the Senate approved a massive Pentagon spending bill, including funding for U.S. troops that was due to run out. The final vote was 88 to 10.

But in the story that went largely overlooked late last week, Senate Republicans attempted to block the vote on troop spending, entirely because they hoped it would cause a delay that could derail health care reform. GOP lawmakers were, in fact, quite candid about their motivations. “They are prepared to jeopardize funding for troops at war,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “If Democrats did that, there would be cries of treason.”

But Republicans did that anyway. Tom Schaller recognized the political opportunity.

Not only are Republican senators threatening to block funding for the troops. Not only are they doing so under cover of night. Not only does this go against all of the soft-on-defense attacks the GOP has launched against Democrats since, oh, 1968.

But some Republicans openly admit they are doing it.

If President Obama and Senate Democrats cannot turn this into a holy shit storm of criticism, there’s something wrong with them. This is a breakaway dunk for Lebron James. This is a tipped pass headed straight into the cornerback Darrell Green’s hands, with nothing but an open sideline between him and the end zone. This is a fat pitch down the middle to Albert Pujols on a full count with the bases loaded. This is my beloved Alex Ovechkin with the puck on his stick and an open net in front of him.

As you may have noticed, this did not happen, and Republicans are not the slightest bit embarrassed by their behavior. If you’re thinking that Dems just aren’t especially good at capitalizing on these kinds of opportunities, that’s because the party’s track record has been discouraging at times.

But in this case, Democrats deserve credit for at least trying. Less than a day after Republicans tried to block military spending, the DNC unveiled a 30-second ad on the subject, which has reportedly begun airing on the cable news networks.

“How far are Republicans willing to go to protect the insurance industry and block health reform?” the ad asks. “Far enough to deny funding and equipment for our troops in harm’s way. Republicans are so desperate to block health reform and protect their special interest friends that they delayed funding for our men and women in uniform. Then they voted against it. Tell Republicans to stop playing politics with health care. And to stop playing politics with our troops.”

The White House pushed the story, too.

Why wasn’t this a bigger deal? I suspect timing had a lot to do with it — the ad was unveiled as all kinds of health care-related developments were unfolding, and on the same day as the conclusion of international climate talks in Copenhagen. The Senate GOP’s misconduct just got lost in the shuffle.