On the first day of spring, this morning, Representative Louise Slaughter convened the House of Representatives Rules Committee to set the reconciliation parameters for finally passing health care reform in the United States.
Republicans were in panic mode, watching the final chapter play out in what will be a historic defeat for the GOP. Slaughter handled them politely and with aplomb. But she wasn't in the mood for their crap either.
I thought I'd share a couple highlights of Republican FAIL from this historic hearing.
The first Republican to speak was Representative Joe Barton. And just for old times sake, he tried the Lucy-Charlie-Brown football gambit, suggesting that Democrats could avoid all this difficulty and just skip reconciliation. You see, Republicans are ready to work productively on a conference committee to pass a bipartisan bill!
REPPRESENTATIVE BARTON: The speaker of the House could appoint Mr. Waxman, Mr. Miller, Mr. Levin and whoever else on the majority side. Mr. Boehner could appoint, you know, one third of the Republicans and we could go to conference with the Senate.
I might point out that as far as I can tell in the both the Senate bill and the reconciliation package the main components in terms of policy change don't kick in until 2014. So it's not like we have to be here on a Sunday afternoon. It's not like we don't have enough time to actually have a debate.
I can't emphasize strongly enough for the sanctity of the institution we adopt a rule that's based on regular order.
I do appreciate your courtesy in allowing me to testify. And I do hope that regular order will prevail.
Slaughter's response to this bullshit was classic:
REPRESENTATIVE SLAUGHTER: Mr. Barton, conference would have been wonderful. Would have been wonderful for the last three years, but as you know we've not been able to do that. And I know that Senator McConnell announced last year that there would be no conference on this bill.
I appreciate that you're the Bluebird of Happiness. (laughter) And that somehow we believe that we could do this all loving and sweetness and light. But we just don't have any evidence to prove that.
I love to hear it. I agree with you. Nothing would please me more than we were all working together and we could try to get this done. Because it is the most important thing that I think I've been voting on in my career here. And I hate it that one of the parties has opted out of something of this magnitude. But we have to play the hand that's dealt us. And so we're going to be doing the best we can. But I've always appreciated your advice. (laughter)
I don't know of anything that has had more hearings or more work. We've gone over bills section by section in our caucuses and worked very hard on them. But I was here during the Clinton health care debate which was very much the same and I remember the things that were said about it. And one of the worst for me was the information that went out to senior citizens. That under the Clinton health care plan if by some chance a hapless senior went to the wrong doctor, it was going to cost them under the Clinton plan $10,000 and maybe jail time. That's the kind of thing that we've been having to fight here.
And I really have to stand up for my side. We have tried every way in the world to be bipartisan and we have wanted conferences. And we have simply as I said a while ago have had to play the hand that's been dealt us. I wish we could have done better, and I think in time, everybody will see that what we've done here has made a good difference in the United States. And we have to get on with it.
Thank you Representative Slaughter! Thank you for reminding us of the ugly tactics and lies that Republicans have used for years to derail health care reform. Thank you for reminding us of how we got to the point where Democrats are on the precipice of taking this historic step without any help from Republicans. The Grand Old Party is on the wrong side of history again. They'll be punished for it in November and for years to come.
Republican boy-wonder Paul Ryan also got a few minutes in the spotlight today. After using his time to attack the health care bill, complete with a cardboard placard labeled "Democrats' Fuzzy Math" and complaints about Medicare cuts, blah, blah, blah, Slaughter decided to have a discussion with Ryan:
SLAUGHTER: Mr. Ryan, I understand you have your own reform plan. Would you just give us a very brief description of what you plan for Medicare? As I understand it, you phase it out. You get rid of it completely.
RYAN: No, farthest from the truth. I couldn't disagree with you more. But let me first say there are lots of Republicans bills on health care. There are dozens of bills. Mr. Camp has a bill. Mr. Price has a bill.
SLAUGHTER: But you're the ranking member on Budget, so your's obviously is very important.
RYAN: Actually, I have...that's not the Republican budget. I introduced my own long term entitlement plan.
SLAUGHTER: Well, let's hear that.
So Ryan goes into a detailed explanation about how he wants to privatize Medicare for anyone currently under the age of 55.
SLAUGHTER: What you're saying is in the future the elderly will be given a voucher. The elderly, the mentally ill, the critically ill. All these people that are covered now by Medicare will be given a voucher to go to the public market.
SLAUGHTER: Do they go buy their own insurance if they can find it?
RYAN: Medicare-approved insurance.
SLAUGHTER: I see. Well, I think that verges on cruelty.
Yes, the same kind of sociopathic cruelty displayed by Republicans who mocked and derided Slaughter's constituent who is forced to use her dead sister's dentures.
The discussion of Ryan's Medicare phase-out plan went on for some time, with other members joining in. After a while, Henry Waxman tried to steer the debate back to the Democratic health care plan. But Slaughter thought the discussion should continue:
I think it's so important, frankly, Mr. Waxman that we have some idea of the bill Mr. Ryan's proposing.
Yes, let's not forget what Republicans want. Nothing has changed since the 1990s when Newt Gingrich vowed to let Medicare "whither on the vine".
Republicans have feared this moment for a long time. In 1993, Bill Kristol laid out the stakes for Democratic health care reform:
"The plan should not be amended; it should be erased," Mr. Kristol advised the GOP. And not merely because Mr. Clinton's scheme was (in Mr. Kristol's view) bad policy, but because "it will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests."
Historian Rick Perlstein suggests that this memo is "the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics" because it opens up a fundamental conservative anxiety: "If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we're screwed."
Yep, you're screwed. Enjoy the next 30 years in the minority, assholes.