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Health-care reform and politics as usual

Cash for Cloture! Cornhusker Kickback! Louisiana Purchase!

We are, or so we are told by conservative commentators and politicians, supposed to be indignant, outraged, horrified at the fact that lawmakers with bargaining power extracted special deals for their states in the negotiations over health care reform.

"Prostitution has been legalized in Washington, D.C.," railed Rush Limbaugh. "Backroom deals that amount to bribes," lamented South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Give me a break.

You may not like it. It's certainly not pretty. But this kind of political horse-trading has been around since the dawn of politics, if not the dawn of horses. So the protestations of fury from opponents of the measure are awfully hard to take.

Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson obtained special treatment on Medicaid for his state before he agreed, at long last, to provide the 60th Senate vote. Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu squeezed out extra Medicaid funding for her state -- and proudly pointed out that the actual amount was $300 million, not a mere $100 million as had initially been reported. These are lawmakers looking out for the interests of their states, which, if I'm not mistaken, is a big part of what they were elected to do. Somewhere I hear the faint sound of Lyndon Johnson clapping. Exhortations about the common good are nice, but nothing persuades like a bridge.

If anything, the Democratic deal-making looks tame by comparison to the Republican arm-twisting in advance of -- and during -- the House vote on the prescription drug program for Medicare in 2003. In the most egregious example, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, offered to endorse the son of retiring Michigan Republican Nick Smith if he agreed to vote "yes" on the bill. Somehow I don't recall the Limbaughs of the world getting the vapors over DeLay's behavior.

In any event, there's a huge difference between an offer that goes purely to a politician's personal benefit and an offer of help to a lawmaker's state (and therefore to his or her own political benefit). The first verges on the criminal. The second is part of the job description.

Granted, this is not President Obama's promised change from politics as usual. Then again, that's just what it is: politics as usual.

By Ruth Marcus  | December 24, 2009; 1:28 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Nice little piece there, Ms. Marcus.

Of course the process was deeply flawed, but the deepest flaw was the extension of the fillibuster to effectively rewrite the constitution. I don't hear the conservatives carping about that particular perversion of democracy.

Posted by: HuckFinn | December 24, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Talk about turning logic on its head! Marcus says it is much more ethical to use billions of the taxpayers money to buy the votes of Senators of a few states for a partisan bill than it is to offer to support an individual candidacy for office. Can we put this up to a vote, please?

Posted by: fnelowet1 | December 24, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

I would LOVE to see the Post publish this whopper in the print version ;-).

Posted by: fnelowet1 | December 24, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

While it may seem obvious that the GOP and friends are playing politics, that in and of itself does not excuse the gigantic fraud that this bill is. Both sides are equally corrupt, and the "help" that the individual states receive do not benefit a large majority of those states' populations. I daresay that checking the campaign donors' list for each Senator will tell you all you need to know about who is actually benefitted from all this.

Posted by: Puller58 | December 25, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

The fact of the matter is that neither Republicans nor Democrats in Congress, for the most part, have any idea of the difference between right and wrong. Perhaps they never did. In any case, Ms. Marcus, isn't it your job to point out that there is a difference and where that difference lies?

Posted by: sailhardy | December 25, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse


Obama never wants to enforce immigration laws so illegal immigrants can keep receiving welfare and healthcare benefits as in the case of Obama's aunt Zeituni Onyango, an illegal immigrant from Kenya yet lived in taxpayer-funded public housing complex in Boston for many years and also contributed $260 to Obama's presidential bid. In fact, Obama, with his immigration reform, wants to naturalize twelve million illegal immigrants so they can get healthcare insurance and vote for his Democratic Party.

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | December 25, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Hey Marcus your statement shows your bias and liberal mentality

You may not like it. It's certainly not pretty. But this kind of political horse-trading has been around since the dawn of politics, if not the dawn of horses. So the protestations of fury from opponents of the measure are awfully hard to take.

One of the principals of the U S Government is to create laws to cover ALL CITIZENS of this country. When the politicians of either party create (sausages)laws that treat citizens from different congressional districts DIFFERENTLY due to the prostitution of the various elected officials, then the law is flawed.

What right do the citizens in Nebraska or Miami or LA have special treatment? What right does an imaginary boundary created by politicians have to exclude one set of peoples from their neighbor next door because they are not in the prostitutes voting district.

Take off your liberal hat and colored glasses and see this piece of S&IT for what it is.

Posted by: frankn1 | December 25, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Will no one call President Obama to task over "politics as usual". Ruth Marcus and others continue to imply that the President can campaign on change but govern by "politics as usual".

Posted by: bonatz | December 25, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Ruth Marcus and her situational ethics have no credibility whatsoever. In fact, The Post should be embarrassed to publish her nonsense. For certainly had a Republican majority contorted the legislative process in such a blatantly partisan way to make bad policy, she'd rightly scream bloody murder. Why won't she call a spade a spade when it comes to her socialist Democrats?

Posted by: mckdarrenDC | December 25, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

The irony in Ms. Marcus' column is that she herself benefits from politics as usual. President Obama appointed Ms. Marcus' husband, Jon Leibowitz, as chairman of the FTC (see another story in the post today). She rarely (if ever) mentions that she personally benefits from this administration. I'm not saying this disqualifies her from writing in the Post, but this fact should be mentioned in every column she writes that supports the administration that aggrandizes her personal wealth and status in Washington.

Posted by: superfluous1998 | December 25, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

There's not a sweeter sound to my ears than the sound of Republican crybabies, crying.

Posted by: dlgreene | December 25, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Boy, Ruth Marcus. Do you have a distorted view of reality. I don't see how an offer to endorse a candidate compares in any fashion to spending millions and millions of taxpayers dollars and giving special dispensation to one state. You have your ideological blinders on.

Posted by: dakotadoug83 | December 25, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Our Government has become corrupt and dysfunctional and voting will no longer correct this condition because the candidates offered by the two major parties are virtually identical and the present system of campaign financing ensures that there will never be a viable third party. Therefore I advocate armed insurrection beginning with the assasination of all Republicans currently holding Federal office. This must be done before the passage of any so called Health Care bill makes the purchase of Health Insurance a requisite for citizenship in our country. Are we really going to let our government use private industries to force us to pay for the right to draw breath and then fine us if we can't afford it? What if we refuse to buy "insurance" or pay the fines? Then what? Garnishment from a dwindling paycheck that is already too small to stave off the foreclosure of our homes or buy food for our families? Incarceration?
It's conditions such as these that compelled our Founding Fathers to armed Revolution in the first place!

Gordon B. Abel,
Minneapolis, Mn

Posted by: grdnabel | December 25, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Ms Marcus misses the point.

Of course, it isn't criminal to buy votes with other people's money taken at the point of government's gun, but it should be. Of course, this is politics as usual.

Moreover,by Obama standards, it is a relatively tame form of corruption. Remember Acorn, et. al.? These people feel entitled to spend other people's money to fund their ideological ambitions and there is no law against it.

The point is that politics itself is not only corrupt to the core, it is the cesspool into which our society's corruption naturally flows. More sepcifically, the issue is that our social democrats are the big government, tax and spend party and this bill is just another example of their pi$$ing away people's lives and fortunes in support of their socialist ideology.

Worse, it is just another step in the destruction of American freedom for feel good socialism, doomed from the start to the inescapable law of unintended consequences by which the incompetent Obanaites of this country lead us again into Jimmy Carter's misery index redux.

Posted by: RUKidding0 | December 25, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Since the rest of us have to pick up the tab for Nebraska, let's boycott Nebraska.

Posted by: mlhill01 | December 25, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised to see Ms. Marcus justifying politics as usual under President Obama who campaigned as a candidate of change. In stead of change, we see backroom deals going on.

Further, the deal struck by Sen. Reid with Sen. Nelson might be ruled unconstitutional as Medicaid costs are to be shared between federal and state governments. No state can be exempted from this obligation. If Nebraska is going to be exempted from this obligation, other states also should be exempted. The rule should apply to all states.

Posted by: kathan | December 25, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

The shameless gluttony of Democrats reminds me of the Bumpus hounds devouring the family turkey in A Christmas Story.

Posted by: Jerzy | December 25, 2009 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Marcus is truly hopeless if she is unable to see the difference between DeLay offering to spend personal time to give a personal endorsement in an election, and the Majority Leader doling out MILLIONS of TAXPAYER DOLLARS to purchase a partisan victory.

Posted by: parkbench | December 26, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Ruth wrote: "In the most egregious example, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, offered to endorse the son of retiring Michigan Republican Nick Smith if he agreed to vote "yes" on the bill.
In any event, there's a huge difference between an offer that goes purely to a politician's personal benefit and an offer of help to a lawmaker's state (and therefore to his or her own political benefit)."

There is a huge difference, and only one of those two choices involved money from taxpayers! (Hint: it's not the endorsement.)

Posted by: mertt | December 26, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse



Thanks Harry- Glad you wanted the JOB!

Thanks Nancy- Glad you wanted the JOB!

Thanks President- Glad you wanted the JOB!

What did GOP do about Immigration reform in 2007?

What did GOP do to McCain with Campaign Finance Reform?

Recall what GOP did to Al Gore and Lieberman on the LOCK BOX for Social Security?

Recall what GOP did to Senator Kerry during his campaign in 2004?

I Do!

Sen. Kerry was screaming about jobs- and the Squeeze on the Middle Class-

Recall what those GOP'ers did Senator?

I do!

Now- GOP - ALL screaming for their JOBS and Social Security Senator!

WSJ/Murdoch: Dumb it Down Mr. President!

We got a lot of STUPID to entertain!

TOO LAZY to learn!

Like BUSH said- they do not want the JOB!

Posted by: sasha2008 | December 26, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

We missed a tremendous opportunity to force the legislature to change THEIR health insurance coverage to match that provided under the new bill / healthcare plan. True, they'd make up for the cost thru additional bribes collected but it would create an illusion of fairness.
You folks sure are funny squabbling over being Democrats or Republicans. It's like you've decided that tuberculosis is favorable to cancer. They are both sucking the marrow out of our bones and all four need to be eradicated.

Posted by: mtntexas | December 27, 2009 1:43 AM | Report abuse

To get rid of the 'politics as usual', we'd have to outlaw all politics, which may not be a bad idea. Goverment 'service' in elected positions has become the strategic 'battleground' for people who never got to be King of the Hill when they when they were kids and are still trying to play it as adults, for people whose ego constantly needs more attention, more power, more money, more . . .more . . more. . .Government 'service' in elected positions has lost the dignity and respect it once had.
In order to afford the expense of seeking an elected position, one must be willing to 'sell yourself' to the highest bidders. Campaign donations need to be called exactly what they are---BRIBES!!!!!
To get rid of the 'politics as usual', we should outlaw 'special interest groups' and lobbyists who carry pockets full of cash into meetings with candidates and the candidates who demand the pockets full of cash as condition of the meetings, the out in front and behind the scenes 'party leaders' whose agendas candidates must follow.
Legislators were drooling at the concept of debating healthcare reform simply because of all the 'deals' that would have to be made. "Historic" legislation such as this was a sure bet to make the legislators rich. My grandfather always says "If they aren't corrupt when they get in, they are before they leave."
Healthcare reform is, and likely has always been intended to comply with my grandfather's saying. The only intended beneficiaries of healthcare reform is the legislators greed for money and 'power'. "R" or "D"---doesn't matter. The money will be flowing to both those in favor of, and against, healthcare reform.

Posted by: momof20yo | December 27, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Marcus, thanks for plainly detailing the hypocrisy and ignorance of the latest republican temper tantrums. Although, I doubt it will do anything to quell their irrational delusions - they don't need no stinkin' facts!

No facts necessary when you have selective principles like...

"In any event, there's a huge difference between an offer that goes purely to a politician's personal benefit and an offer of help to a lawmaker's state (and therefore to his or her own political benefit)."

"There is a huge difference, and only one of those two choices involved money from taxpayers! (Hint: it's not the endorsement.)"

Posted by: mertt | December 26, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

No mertt, you're wrong. There's no difference between the two - be it a dollar or a positive word, it's all the same. Too bad you can't see that. I'll give it to those on the right, their "principles" certainly are fluid.

Posted by: NotFooledTX | December 27, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Wrong NotFooledTX: "dollar, positive word".

Posted by: mertt | December 27, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Well, this liberal does find fault with the way Nelson traded his vote for special treatment for his state. You may call it horse trading but it looks like holding the bill hostage and blackmail.

As for the Republicans whining about it, all it would have taken was for one of them to step up to the plate, voted for the bill and they would have ended the special treatment. They didn't and they can kiss off.

Posted by: timothy2me | December 27, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Thank goodness not one single Republican voted for this disaster of a bill. Polls show (do your own damn Googling) the American people overwhelmingly hate the current bill. Now the Dems OWN it - let them choke on it in 2010.

Posted by: mertt | December 27, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

What no one seems to get is that Obama got elected to stop the business as usual type of politics that we have in place. When he said that "earmarks have no place in my administration" I actually believed him. When he said he would do away with earmarks as soon as he is elected sounded good! Now we are be believe that business as usual is acceptable. Earmarks under Clinton and Bush alike were disgusting and they are even more disgusting coming from a guy that promised us exactly this type of change. He actually got elected for exactly this type of change so please dont tell us this is how it has always been done. That is no longer acceptable. Presidents and administrations need to be held accountable, not given a pass as this article seems to do!!!

Posted by: rgray222 | December 28, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

And of course Republicans refuse to mention that if they allowed majority rule to rule, Sen. Nelson's 60th vote wouldn't have been necessary and so he would have lost the leverage needed to exact tribute -- tribute his constituents demanded by the way in order to vote yes on a bill we are told Nebraskans oppose. This wasn't a corrupt bargain. Nelson got no summer home in the Hamptons out of the deal. He traded his vote for some benefits for his constituents. ANd it is awfully hard to take Republican criticisms seriously when they quadrupled the number of special interest pork barrell earmarks that went to their constituients around the normal review process. Call it politics as usual if you want. But as even Tom Delay reminded us, the alternative to horse-trading "politics" is dictatorship.

Posted by: TedFrier | December 28, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

From the swamps that were to be cleared by the new majority, right?

It must be a generational thing, but blaming others once responsible used to be a clear sign of imaturity & weakness of character - criticising others then doing the same was considered a self inflicted disgrace!

Posted by: sally62 | December 28, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Bribery and thuggery... pure and simple, along with most everything else with this admiistration (or lack thereof).

Posted by: pbrown8155 | December 28, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Can you please own up to your personal ties to this incompetent administration?

You've dodged it so far, but enough is enough. Your family gets money from Obama.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | December 28, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

So Ms. Marcus' arguement is that it has been around since the beginning and that makes it right. Well, my Mother taught me better. It is wrong and it should be stopped. These "prostitutes" put a price on their intergrity and ethics. In my business I would be fired as quick as the security people could walk me out of the building. Ms. Marcus is a good example of an America that has accepted less than right as a standard...I refuse to. This entire Congress needs to be hauled out and sent packing. Maybe the WaPo needs to look for better more ethical opinion writers also. Anyone that supports this kind of government makes me question their judgement across the board.

Posted by: staterighter | December 29, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Just because Rush Limburger fulminates against something does not necessarily justify whatever that may be (it often does).
In this particular case the horse trading was excessive, what if every Senator were to ask the same treatment before voting for any bill? The US would bankrupt itself buying Senator votes. Political horse trading is one thing, extracting money from most taxpayers to benefit a few not in dire need is pretty smelly business. That the blackmailing Senators are proud of what they achieved is even smellier.

Posted by: serban1 | December 30, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

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