Skip to comments.When The House Looks Like The Senate
Posted on 03/22/2004 3:33:22 PM PST by Chapita
When I first went to work in the United States Senate, I frequently accompanied Senator Gordon Allott (R-Co.) to the Senate floor. There I watched as Senators had to cast vote after vote on liberal issues which often were unrelated to the legislation at hand. I asked the Senator what was going on? He replied: It's all politics. The liberals want to use these votes in the next election.
The liberal ploy went unanswered for many years. Time and again moderate and conservative Senators had to explain why they voted to deprive poor children of milk, or voted for dirty air or voted against one minority or the other. Half of the time the Senators couldn't even remember the votes. It worked. Many conservative Senators were defeated and the use of issues by liberal groups was one of the instruments of defeat.
Indeed, Allott himself would lose the closest Senate election in Colorado history six years hence with liberal issues being part of the equation. Liberals, right after the attack at the Munich Olympics, set him up with a vote which caused him to have to go on record regarding the proposed Olympics for Colorado four years hence. He was for it. But the idea was unpopular. I recall him saying to me on our way back from the Senate floor that he may have cast his last vote on the subject. He knew that vote could cost him. He was right. Year after year, conservatives forfeited the game as only the liberals offered these amendments.
Then came Sen. Jesse Helms. Soon after he was elected in 1972 and for thirty years hence, Helms offered amendments to put the liberals on the defensive. Helms was hated by many of his colleagues even though he was unfailingly polite and always pleasant. But Helms put the liberals constantly on record on especially the dreaded social issues. Senators had to vote on abortion, school busing, prayer, affirmative action and a host of other issues time and again. They didn't mind offering amendments with which to fry conservatives but when the tables were turned they howled to high heaven. Helms was divisive. Helms had no respect for the Senate. Helms was mean. That last charge was the nastiest cut of all, as Helms was truly a gentle soul. What he did he did out of ideological conviction not out of meanness. He didn't have a mean bone in his body.
It worked. Beginning in the l976 election when a series of incumbent Senators out West were defeated, in part because their conservative challengers used the Helms-sponsored votes, the work of Senator Helms was legendary. Right up until his last year in office, when he sponsored an amendment on the Boy Scouts, Helms put his colleagues on the line. And indeed that vote was used in the 2002 elections.
In fact, just last week I was in a discussion with Senators when one of them suggested we needed similar votes this year. Jesse Helms is enjoying his grandchildren. The question is will there be a new Helms in the Senate?
Liberal Republicans always put pressure on the leadership not to have these votes. They claim it endangers them although there is no evidence that claim is true. We'll see if in the remaining weeks before Congress adjourns for the elections we witness many such votes in the Senate.
We did witness such a vote in the House last week. The Republican leadership sponsored a non-binding resolution (which is basically an expression of opinion) for the first anniversary of the Iraq war. It commended the troops, which was not controversial. But the line that suggested that we were safer today because of the regime change in Iraq was too much for Nancy Pelosi, the liberal House Democratic leader. She organized a debate to oppose the resolution. For four hours, the House debated this resolution. It was highly emotional. In the end 80-some Democrats joined all but two Republicans in voting for the resolution. This was a perfect example of the sort of measure that was put out there to draw the opposition into a major debate. It worked. Democrats, who are perceived in national polls as weaker on defense, were seen arguing (a la Howard Dean) that we were not safer with Saddam out of the picture. Even the so-called mainstream media conceded it was a net loss for the Democrats. Radio talk show hosts all over America had a field day with this issue.
There may well be additional votes on bills and amendments to those bills that are designed to put Members of Congress on record on controversial issues so the respective parties have a chance to use those votes in the upcoming elections.
The Senate is supposed to be the world's greatest deliberative body. They have done little deliberating of late. In debating this resolution, the House looked like the Senate.
Some critics complained that the resolution was a waste of time since it wasn't binding. I take the contrary view. Politics in this country is best when voters understand the differences between the parties. Sometimes the voters go against the views I hold. So be it. The more the debate, the more the voters know. The more the voters know, the better off the nation is when they head for the voting booth.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation
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