Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martiae) is the name of March 15 in the Roman calendar. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months.The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 709 AUC or 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and 60 other co-conspirators.

According to Plutarch, Caesar was warned by a seer to be on his guard against a great peril on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar saw the seer and joked "Well, the Ides of March have come," to which the seer replied "Ay, they have come, but they are not gone." This meeting is famously dramatized in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned to "beware the Ides of March".

It has all come down to this week. I said I would believe that Nancy Pelosi has the votes to pass the Senate health care bill in House when she actually schedules the vote. Well, Pelosi has declared that there will be a vote by the end of this week—but tellingly, she has not actually scheduled it for a specific day and time. What that tells us is that she is not confident she has the votes—but she's going to take the chance anyway and will probably hold the vote without knowing ahead of time what the outcome will be.

The other big piece of evidence here is President Obama's decision to postpone an overseas trip in order to stay in Washington for the vote—which means that the White House also doesn't know how it's going to go and is keeping the president around to bribe and threaten members of the House right up to the very last minute.

Readers may note that I have stopped writing about the content or merits of the bill itself. I've mostly been focusing on the "whip count," i.e., the question of whether Pelosi really has the votes.

Why? Because Obama is right about one thing. Everything that can be debated about the bill has already been said, and "the time for talking is over." If only he would heed that advice and shut up.

The fact is that we've already done everything that ought to be necessary to stop this bill. We've turned public opinion decisively against it. I saw recent poll results indicating that the public basically hasn't moved on this since last August. They decided back then that they hate the bill, and they still hate it. And boy have we communicated that fact to our congressmen, again and again, culminating in the Massachusetts vote in January.

So it's no longer about convincing anyone. It's just a matter of raw power politics. The far left is committed to this bill with a monomaniacal fury, and they're willing to go down in flames pushing it through, so the only question is: do they have the votes?

The good news is that more Democrats keep breaking against the bill. The Washington Examiner reports that two Virginia Democrats, Glenn Nye and Rick Boucher, have come out as definite "no" votes, and it indicates that even Charlottesville Democrat Tom Perriello may vote against it (though the original report on which this is based is more equivocal).

CNN also reports that five more House Democrats have come out against the bill. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund says that "Not one of the Democrats who voted against health care last year has proclaimed support for the Senate bill, while dozens of members who voted for it last year say they are undecided." So the math is running against Pelosi.

But don't get complacent. For one thing, there is an inherent one-sidedness in a lot of the reporting right now. Democrats who plan to vote "no" are loudly declaring their intentions, while those who intend to vote "yes"—including the people who will really decide this vote, the former "no" votes who switch to "yes"—are generally not speaking up, to avoid the phone calls and public pressure that will descend on them if they reveal where they stand.

That in itself speaks volumes about where the momentum is on this issue—yet the bill's chances of passage have been trending up in the InTrade political futures market, where prices now stand in the mid-60s. Anything above 50% can be interpreted as a bet in favor of passage. I don't put too much stock in InTrade, because it tends to be a lagging indicator that responds to information that is already available. Yet this means that the information already available causes more traders to believe it will pass than not.

But like I said, the momentum is running against passage. Most recently, moderate Democratic pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen have come out with an op-ed puncturing one of the new Democratic talking points: the idea that Democrats will actually benefit in this fall's election by passing the bill. The idea is that even if the bill is currently unpopular with voters, the people will magically discover its virtues once it become law and we "find out what is in it," as Nancy Pelosi has told us.

Caddell and Schoen reply:

CNN found last month that 56 percent of Americans believe that the government has become so powerful it constitutes an immediate threat to the freedom and rights of citizens. When only 21 percent of Americans say that Washington operates with the consent of the governed, as was also reported last month [more on that poll result later—RWT], we face an alarming crisis.

Health care is no longer a debate about the merits of specific initiatives. Since the spectacle of Christmas dealmaking to ensure passage of the Senate bill, the issue, in voters' minds, has become less about health care than about the government and a political majority that will neither hear nor heed the will of the people….

[T]he Democrats are pursuing policies that are out of step with the way ordinary Americans think and feel about politics and government. Barring some change of approach, they will be punished severely at the polls.

And what is especially perverse is that Democrats are doing everything they can to encourage the view that they "will neither hear nor heed the will of the people." Pelosi, the same person who brought us "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it," now describes the passage of the bill in terms that evoke the image of jack-booted tactics: "once we kick through this door, there'll be more legislation to follow."

Byron York has that story, plus the most outrageous twist so far:

But since the current bill is unpopular, and Pelosi at the moment does not have enough Democratic, much less Republican, votes to pass it, the door she will be kicking through is the back door. Pelosi told the bloggers she favors using the "self-executing rule" strategy in which the House would pass the Senate health care bill without going on the record as specifically voting for it. "I like it," Pelosi said of the scheme, "because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill." The strategy of passing the Senate bill while avoiding a direct vote, writes Klein, "is all about plausible deniability for House members who don't want to vote for the Senate bill."

In a particularly Alice-in-Wonderland moment, Pelosi argued that the debate over health care reform can begin after the bill is passed. "Pelosi said passing the bill would allow Dems to undertake a 'debate' with Republicans over 'what is the balanced role that government should have,'" writes another pro-reform blogger at the Post, Greg Sargent. According to Sargent, Pelosi explained, "We have to take it to the American people, to say, this is the choice that you have. This is the vision that they have for your health and well being, and this is the vision that we have." Again, in Pelosi's scenario, that debate would occur after the bill is passed.

What's that part about passing the bill without actually voting on it?

This is being called the Slaughter Rule, after House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, whose brainchild it is, The New York Times describes the tactic this way:

House Democrats are so skittish about the piece of legislation that is now the vehicle for overhauling the health care system—the bill passed by the Senate in December — that they are considering a maneuver that would allow them to pass it without explicitly voting for it.

Under that approach, House Democrats would approve a package of changes to the Senate bill in a budget reconciliation bill. The Senate bill would be "deemed passed" if and when the House adopts rules for debate on the reconciliation bill—or perhaps when the House passes that reconciliation bill.

This is supposed to allow House Democrats to say they didn't vote for the Senate bill, that they voted instead for the Senate bill plus a whole package of changes. But it's a transparent fraud, because once the Senate bill is "deemed" to have passed the House, it can be signed into law by the president—and the package of changes can be dropped or ignored by the Senate.

This whole idea of passing a bill "without explicitly voting for it" is the greatest evasion of legislative responsibility, the most blatant expression of contempt for the public, that I have ever seen from Congress. The Wall Street Journal also argues that it is a blatant violation of Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution and amounts to the idea that "the rules are whatever Democrats say they are."

Like I've been saying, it's time for the tar and feathers.

Peter Beinart offers a somewhat different analogy. Beinart is a leftist hack, but in a recent column he shows that does grasp a little bit about what is really going on in America. He describes the old Clinton-era moderate Democrats as having the theory that "being a liberal is like walking past a bear."

Move cautiously and reassuringly and the bear will purr contentedly. But make any sudden or threatening gestures, and you'll be mauled because, fundamentally, the bear distrusts liberals. As Galston and Kamarck wrote in their famed 1989 essay "The Politics of Evasion"—a document that helped define the "don't scare the bear" wing of the party—Democrats can pass liberal programs "but these programs must be shaped and defended within an inhospitable ideological climate." To pretend that the American people are liberal at heart is to evade political reality, with devastating results.

He then documents how the Democratic Party turned away from this approach, so that now, "From top to bottom, Democrats have decided to bet the party's future on the belief that Americans prefer bold liberals to cautious ones."

He concludes: "Now it's up to the bear."

It certainly is. Start sharpening your claws.—RWT

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of "The Intellectual Activist (TIA)" and contributor to "The Freedom Fighter's Journal."

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