"Mistakes do happen"
Mistakes were made.
That is one of the oldest refrains of modern politics, harkening back to one of President Ronald Reagan's memorable explanations of the Iran-Contra affair in the mid-1980s.
Most recently, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used the phrase to describe the administration's process in terminating eight U.S. attorneys.
Last week, in a much more benign way, mistakes were made again.
This time, it was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and his accidental vote in favor of a $5 billion earmark for rural schools and counties in the $122 billion supplemental spending bill for the Iraq war. About one-sixth of the overall spending bill was devoted to domestic policy initiatives unrelated to the military.
As colleague Dana Milbank ably displayed in his Thursday Washington Sketch, Graham joined a band of GOP budget hawks this week in offering a series of amendments designed to strip some of the non-military spending provisions from the bill.
One of the more egregious provisions targeted was a proposed $25 million in payouts to spinach growers, which was the one successful effort made by Sens. Graham, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and James DeMint (R-S.C.) to trim what they deemed pork from the military spending bill.
"I don't see how the asparagus-spinach problem helps us win in Iraq," Graham said Wednesday at a news conference. "This is a bill designed to help people that are getting shot at."
But, upon beating back the spinach lobby, Graham went to the floor and voted in favor of an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that added $5 billion to the spending bill's price tag. Clearly this was a contradiction to all his other votes of the day, which included cutting other farm spending and slashing $100 million from the bill to pay for the 2008 Republican and Democratic national nominating conventions.
By Thursday morning -- Milbank's Sketches are regularly among the most e-mailed features on washingtonpost.com -- Graham had realized the error of his ways and was on the Senate floor pleading forgiveness. "I voted 'aye.' It was my intention to vote 'no'. Therefore," Graham said, "I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to change my vote since it will not affect the outcome."
Under Senate rules, such changes are allowed when it will not affect the outcome of the vote. And Graham's staff is adamant that it was an accident.
"He rushed to the floor, he cast his vote, and it was the wrong vote," said Kevin Bishop, Graham's spokesman.
And, yes, as the old refrain goes: "Mistakes do happen," Bishop said.
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