The importance of telling friend from foe

THE IMPORTANCE OF TELLING FRIEND FROM FOE…. Last week, a unanimous Senate Republican caucus blocked, and likely killed, the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. It’s the bill that intended to pay health care costs for 9/11 rescue workers, sickened after exposure to the toxic smoke and debris. The vote was entirely along party lines — every Democrat supported the measure, and every Republican opposed it.

Yesterday, 9/11 responders and their families, desperate for the bill to pass, started blaming … Democrats.

Responders blame [Republicans] most, but are getting tired of Democrats putting it all on the GOP — noting Democrats control the Senate, where New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is in charge of policy.

“I simply cannot fathom that a Democratic-controlled House, Senate and White House cannot get our bill passed,” [John Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation] said.

I suspect the public has this reaction fairly often. If there’s a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic White House, why do worthwhile measures keep failing? Why do they keep blaming Republicans at a time when there are Democratic majorities?

The assumption is based on an idea — Congress operates by majority rule — that should be true but isn’t. For much of the country, procedures like “filibusters,” “secret holds,” and “cloture votes” are completely foreign. Indeed, it’s very likely this contributes to public disgust with Congress — when majorities can’t even vote on their own priorities, a lot of folks throw up their arms in frustration and assume the Democratic majority is incompetent. Pointing to procedural abuses — which are the actual heart of the problem — only sounds like excuses to those who have little patience for legislative tactics.

This, in turn, creates an added motivation for Republicans to keep up their obstructionism.

Feal added that Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer “need to grow a set, slap a baby bib on Republicans and force-feed them our bill.”

Again, for much of the country, this probably sounds feasible. If Dem leaders got “tough,” they could just “force” Republicans to approve legislation they’re against.

Toughness, alas, is irrelevant. The problem remains institutional rules that are (a) broken; and (b) allow for abuses like the ones we’ve seen in recent years. The frustration and outrage for proponents of the 9/11 health bill makes all the sense in the world. Blaming Dems for Republican opposition doesn’t.

Post Script: As long as we’re on the subject, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a likely presidential candidate, conceded yesterday that he and his GOP colleagues considered tax cuts more important than the health needs of 9/11 heroes. What a guy.