Editorial: Paying troops vs. delaying health care
Scripps Howard News Service
The U.S. House held off passing until the last minute a huge wrap-up spending bill that included $626 billion in Pentagon spending for the current fiscal year.
The reason was that the bill was not only uncontroversial; it was must-pass legislation. The defense budget contained $128 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus $104 billion in weapons procurement. Holding off passage of the bill allowed the House leadership to add a number of unrelated programs ó transportation funding, overturning a major cut in Medicare, continued funding of unemployment insurance ó that would otherwise have expired at midnight.
The bill easily passed the House Wednesday, 395 to 34. And then it went to the Senate, which was consumed by the health-care debate.
The Senate Republicans, their judgment clouded by their opposition to the health-care bill, decided to filibuster the critical military spending ó in hopes of delaying a vote on health-care past Christmas to embarrass President Obama and the Senate’s Democratic leadership.
It was the kind of trap the Republicans, when they controlled Congress, used to set for the Democrats all the time: Induce the opposition into holding up a war funding bill and then accuse Democrats of betraying the troops.
The Republicans pushed ahead with their filibuster despite a letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell saying, “It is inconceivable to me that such a situation would be permitted to occur with U.S. forces actively deployed in combat.”
The Republicans were banking on the Democrats being unable to muster all 60 of their members to override the filibuster, but they did, including the outspoken anti-war Russ Feingold, who said he was not going to be part of a “cynical and partisan” ploy to block health care.
Seeing that the outcome was inevitable, three Republicans came over, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who faces a tough GOP primary in the Texas governor’s race. The final vote to break the filibuster was 63 to 33.
It’s puzzling why the Republicans would take such political risks to stall off the vote on health care when the Democrats are doing such a good job of it themselves.