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"Madame Speaker, We're Hooked On Our Own Petard!" "Shut Up And Keep Hoisting!"

Last week, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Capitol Hill, involving procedural shenanigans over a measure that would have denied certain forms of federal aid going to illegal aliens. Long story short, the vote was gaveled over before everyone thought it was over, and the vote tally was changed and switched around a few times until it was finally judged defeated by the Democrats, whose leadership had opposed it. This infuriated the Republicans, who were paying closer attention to the tallies than the Democrats (as proven by a the "instant replay" -- a review of the actual tallies and the C-SPAN footage of the voting) and had believed that they had won.

This has sparked no end of accusations, recriminations, heated denials, walkouts, and the other forms of political theater that August -- the month Congress usually takes off to escape the DC heat -- seldom sees.

I'm not much of a follower of Congress. For the most part, I tend to be pretty skeptical and cynical about our congresscritters, as the vast majority of them are useless hacks whose primary allegiance is not to their party or even their constituents, but to the cause of getting re-elected. Whenever one of them gets into some sort of trouble (regardless of nominal affiliation), I find it's usually safe to consider them guilty until proven innocent -- a philosophy that has served me fairly well so far.

The sole exceptions in recent years have been Tom DeLay -- anyone that has two grand juries refuse to charge, and a third have to violate the Constitution to indict, is most likely the target of a witch hunt by a vindictive prosecutor -- and Mark Foley -- who was a repulsive, vile, disgusting quasi-pedophile, but tapdanced to stay within the letter of the law. Other than that, I feel fairly comfortable with my presumption -- and have no problems waiting for justice to catch up with William Jefferson Clinton and Ted Stevens, among others.

This case, though, I'm not so willing to jump to my typical cynical conclusion. Oh, I have no doubts that the Democratic leadership would play such games, engage in such chicanery, violate rules and ethical standards for their own political gain, but I don't believe it happened this time.

One of the aphorisms I've found incredibly useful in life is "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

So far, the Democratic leadership of Congress -- especially the House -- has demonstrated their primary characteristic is incompetence. They have no idea what the hell they're doing, but they're utterly convinced that they're in the right, doing the right thing, and blindly blunder from botchup to botchup while proclaiming their integrity, their rightness, and their efficiency. It reminds me of another great quote, this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."

I suspect that the Democrats simply lost track of the votes, thought they had it right, and insisted on their rightness right up until it was proven they were wrong -- and then were stuck with their argument. They didn't intend to "steal" the vote, but wound up stuck with having done it without even realizing it.

This largely happened because the House has made a tremendous game out of voting. Representatives can ass around and delay or reverse their votes right up until the gavel strikes, It was precisely that loophole that made last week's SNAFU -- and I mean that literally, "Situation Normal -- All Fouled Up" -- not only possible, but inevitable.

And in today's hyperpartisan atmosphere, the outrage just as inevitable.

As a good citizen, I have a couple of solutions I'd like to offer the Honorable Members:

First, get rid of the running tally. Make all House votes "secret" until the voting is closed. Once the balloting is gaveled shut, then -- and only then -- is it revealed just how each member voted. This will put added pressure on the party whips and other apparatchiks, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

Second, make the casting of a vote irreversible. Once a member has pressed their little button, their vote is locked and recorded for all eternity. If they screw up and press the wrong one, then they can stand before their colleagues, confess their ineptitude, and ask for a motion to reconsider.

Either or both will make stupid incidents last week far less likely to occur again in the future.

But I have the utmost faith in our elected officials. Once deprived of this particular manner of screwing things up, they'll find even more and inventive ways to screw up.

But here's the bright side: while the House is busily investigating and examining itself, it'll likely be too busy to cause as much mischief as they normally would. And, if nothing else, they're almost guaranteed to make great spectacles out of themselves with repeated examples and rehashings of their own ineptitude -- and that's always entertaining.


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Comments (20)

Your suggestions are eminen... (Below threshold)

Your suggestions are eminently reasonable and wholesome, and therefore will never be adopted.

Politicians are not motivated as you and I are. They seek complexity for complexity's sake, because it offers them more opportunities to "game the system." Perhaps that wasn't always the case, but we live in the Era of Redistribution, the Era of Special Interests, in which a politician's well-being is tightly tied to how fast and how copiously he can steal from Peter to pay the coalition of Pauls that finance his campaigns and keep him in office.

Yes, that applies to conservative politicians as well. The cream might rise to the top in business and commerce, but in politics, which is the organized pursuit of power over others, it's the sewage that rises to the top.

There are still reasons to prefer conservatives for political office, but don't ever expect the preponderance of politicians, regardless of their stated convictions or affiliations, to be sincerely interested in reducing their own power, perquisites, or opportunities for sharp dealing. Given the incentives that apply to the pursuit of power, it would be highly unnatural. We only get one Reagan per century.

They say we are a "do nothi... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

They say we are a "do nothing" congress, but we have conducted more hearings and show trials since the Spanish Inquisition. People don't realize it but this takes a lot of time; the demagoguery alone takes almost half my staff.

I was finalizing my largest earmark - just in time for the contribution to make it into the campaign for next year's election - so I didn't have time to read the Bill. In cases like this I rely on my staff to prep me for the vote.

So I asked my wife, son in-law, their two kids and an intern, but they were all busy preparing shakedowns for next year's tax Bill. I looked for the polls too, but I finally flipped a coin and voted "No." Who knew?

So then the lobbyists checked in and, you know, sometimes it gets kind of crazy like the trading floor on Wall Street. It was a real bull market on this one too so I had to change my vote once or twice for that. Heck, I still don't know what the Bill was, but we are over halfway to our reelection goal. I got my junkets and golf trips all lined up too.

We had to kind of play with the final vote a bit, but this is not so bad considering the millions that were on the line.

It was a long day but nothing unusual for we dedicated and selfless public servants, happy to serve in the most ethical congress of all time.

I think you're a bit confus... (Below threshold)

I think you're a bit confused over what a petard is, or rather was.

A petard was an explosive charge used to blow down the gates of a castle being stormed. A man would light the fuse, and he would run up to the castle gates along with some helpers (under fire of course), affix the petard to the door, run away, and hopefully only then would it explode.

To be "hoisted by one's own petard" is to be blown up by the bomb you are carrying. Hoisted, as in thrown through the air.

I may have some details slightly wrong, but I'm sure you can find relevant information which is accurate.

Perhaps a better title would be:

"Madame Speaker, We're In Danger of Being Hoisted By Our Own Petard!" "Shut Up And Light the Fuse!"

Sorry if I'm being pedantic, but I thought you would like to know.

Nicholas, the saying still ... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Nicholas, the saying still applies.

I love my state of Texas. We have such a distrust of government that they can only meet every other year and then only for a few weeks. We have 250+ amendments to our constitution because that is about the only way the legislature can get things done. IN other words, they have to seek our approval before they can act. Contrast that with our Feds and you will see the inefficiency, waste and partisan ranker. They have too much time on their hands.

JT, your solution makes sense, which is the kiss of death for the feds. I have doubts about the intention of the democrats in this latest scandal. First, they have proven to be ineffective leaders. Secondly, if it was a regular snafu, why not reconsider the bill again to get it right? This incident has a smell to it. Plus, I do think the dems would cheat just to cheat. ww

Let me get this straight.</... (Below threshold)
Charles Harkins:

Let me get this straight.

1. They stole it, but they didn't mean to.
2. When they realized they unintentionally stole it, they were "stuck" and couldn't give it back.

In other words they are not cheats, they are stupid cheats and that somehow makes it better.

Is that about right?

Political Theater to be sur... (Below threshold)
Justrand:

Political Theater to be sure. How could it be anything but when good OLD Nancy Pelosi (D-Facelift) utters THIS regarding Republican "obstructionism":
"They've just been deluged by the success of the Democrats on behalf of the American people."

That, my friends, is the full-on actual by God quote from her regarding this!! Hey, 4% of Americans have noticed that "success" (since that's Congress' rating these days)

I guess "we reap, what we s... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

I guess "we reap, what we sow". Who the hell would want to be a politician, if it weren't for all of the perks? As much as we hate it (and them), it's still the best system in the world. As much mischief as they can cause, they still can't hang you up in a cell and whip the hell out of you. Although, I wouldn't put it past Hillary.

and btw, Jay, I agree Franc... (Below threshold)
Justrand:

and btw, Jay, I agree Francis that your proposed rule changes are so practical and reasonable as to completely UN-adopatable! Sorry.

Thus for the time being the Democrats broke the silly rules that DO exist...and frankly that is indeed a bad thing. The GAVEL is supposed to be the equivalent of the buzzer in basketball. And in this case when the "buzzer" went off the replay showed that nobody had a "shot already in the air".

The game SHOULD have been over. But in a scene reminiscent of Olympic Gold Medal game in Munich, 1972, the Democrats simply re-played the end until they won. Digging deeper into the Soviet playbook they then ERASED the result.

Jay Tea, I am quite sure th... (Below threshold)
Don:

Jay Tea, I am quite sure that you must have read "1984".
If they don't like the vote, change it or even better the vote never happened.
If you haven't read the book, please do. If you have read it Please reread it. It gives an insight into the aims of the Democrat Party ever since FDR.

Personally, I think that an... (Below threshold)
C-C-G Author Profile Page:

Personally, I think that anyone who wants political office should be banned on the grounds of mental instability.

Until that happens, however, I will continue to support the best of the bad lot (which includes 99 44/100% of all politicians). So don't try to twist what I said above as meaning I won't support my chosen candidate.

(Sometimes ya gotta forestall lefty attacks.)

Deluged, Indeed........ (Below threshold)
ODA315:

Deluged, Indeed.....

Jay, I basically agree with... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Jay, I basically agree with you issues and your reforms. Due to House rules and procedures it seems our representatives worry more about playing the game than representing the people of their districts.

Personally, I think that... (Below threshold)

Personally, I think that anyone who wants political office should be banned on the grounds of mental instability.

There was a sci-fi book I read as a child that was set three hundred years in the future, i.e., the 500th anniversary of America's independence. I remember there was a Constitutional amendment or something that had the President chosen at random and anyone showing aspirations to the office had his name withdrawn from the pool.

Actually, DSkinner, for fic... (Below threshold)
C-C-G Author Profile Page:

Actually, DSkinner, for fictional governments, one suggested by David Eddings for a minor culture in one of his books has some good points.

Basically, when someone is chosen for political office, all his/her assets are liquidated and put into the national treasury. When their term ends, if the government has made a profit, they get a proportional amount of profit. If, however, the government loses money... well, you get the idea.

Apparently in that culture, people did everything they could not to be named to the government, and left as soon as they could.

That sounds pretty darned good to me.

C-C-G:"I refuse to... (Below threshold)

C-C-G:

"I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

- Groucho Marx.

I suggest any and all contr... (Below threshold)
Carl:

I suggest any and all controversies that occur in Congress be resolved with a winner-takes-all hardcore, no-holds-barred steel cage match. Democrats pick their champion and Republicans pick their champion. They televise it on pay-per-view with all proceeds going to help pay the debt.

C'mon it's no goofier than what normally goes on on Capitol Hill and much more entertaining.

The assertion that it was a... (Below threshold)
jainphx:

The assertion that it was accidental,is probably the main reason I read here very seldom.Read today out of boredom.Wont make that mistake again.

Me know ex congressman.... (Below threshold)
Mr Ho:

Me know ex congressman.

You no play game you no get place to live

You no play game you get no money for you state

You no play game you no get relected by you state

You no read bill! No No!

You make Pork you trade Pork you good.

You no make Pork you bad

Silly Round Eyes

For those that would like a... (Below threshold)

For those that would like a few more details, allow me to provide them (you can also click on my name below, where I've included a link to a story in the Albany paper about the incident) - particularly since the man with the gavel at the time, Mike McNulty acting as temporary Speaker (which I guess he does quite often), happens to Represent a district in the Albany area. Permit me, if you will, to explain why I am outraged by this incident. It's not because Rep. McNulty decided to shut down the vote before everyone was happy with their vote, which led to a Democratic 'win' instead of a correct Republican 'win'. Not at all.

Let me tell you what ticked me off the most about this. McNulty clearly effed up. He was too quick on the trigger when he thought the Democrats were going to win and didn't, apparently, make an effort to make sure the votes were actually final. So first he gavels the vote closed too damn fast. So the Republicans march out in protest. THEN, even though he had already CLOSED THE VOTING, he allowed THREE DEMOCRATS TO CHANGE THEIR VOTES to make it look like they won. Then, to rub salt in the wound, they held a revote, AFTER THE REPUBLICANS HAD ALL WALKED OUT TO PROTEST the actions of the Democrats. Needless to say the Democrats won, what with the Republicans having left.

But what burns me the most about this whole incident? This @#$W^# of a NY Rep's reaction to the whole disgraceful affair? He said it was "exciting".

Distorting and manipulating our representative democratic process to the benefit of your political cronies is "exciting". The Republicans had it right: "Shame! Shame!"

Liberal demacrats getting d... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Liberal demacrats getting donations from the hollywood left




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