The preoccupation with procedure suddenly disappears

THE PREOCCUPATION WITH PROCEDURE SUDDENLY DISAPPEARS…. About a year ago, in the midst of a bitter fight over health care reform, one of the top areas of concern among Republicans was about procedure. They cared about the pending legislation, but they really cared about the process.

And so we were bombarded with complaints about discussions “behind closed doors” and “secret deals.” GOP lawmakers who’d relied many times on the same legislative maneuvers were suddenly disgusted with reconciliation, deem and pass, self-executing rules, and the like. Legislation that passed through entirely legitimate means was condemned for having been “rammed through.”

It’s curious, then, to consider Republican satisfaction with what occurred in Madison last night. Ezra Klein had a good piece on this earlier, explaining that Democrats did something extraordinary — they left Wisconsin as part of a quorum-avoidance plan — and Republicans did something extraordinary — they pulled procedural tricks to pass the bill by themselves.

It seems to me that the system worked. Democrats were able to slow the process down and convince both voters in Wisconsin and the national media that there was something beyond business as usual happening in Madison. National and state polls show they were successful in that effort. Walker and the Senate Republicans ignored the Democrats’ attempts at compromise and ignored the public turning against them and decided to pass the legislation anyway.

That was their prerogative, and now it’s up to the voters to decide whether to recall the eight Senate Republicans who are eligible for judgment this year, and to defeat Walker and the other Republicans in a year or two, when they become vulnerable to a recall election. That’s how representative democracy, for better or worse, works. The representatives can make unpopular decisions, but the voters can punish them for it. I thought that during the health-care debate, and I think that now — though I would be interested to see whether any of the conservative voices who were shocked and appalled by President Obama’s decision to ignore public opinion and finish health-care reform using the reconciliation process are calling for Walker’s head today. If not, I think they need to ask themselves what makes this case different.

For what it’s worth, I thought the GOP gambit in Madison was slightly worse, because it involved characterizing a fiscal bill as not having anything to do with state finances, but in a general sense, there are obvious parallels. For those on the right who at least pretended to care passionately about legislative procedures a year ago in Congress, Ezra’s challenge is a good one.

To be sure, though, the point of the Democratic outrage in Wisconsin is over the substance, not the process. If there’s hypocrisy on display here, it’s not bipartisan.