Friday, March 12, 2010

The CARROT and the STICK

The Drudge Report got some laughs recently when it published a collection of news headlines, all virtually identical, going back to July 28th, 2009, each hailing an “endgame” deadline for passing the Health Care Reform Bill. These headlines were bannered just prior to the Senate’s August recess, when passage of the bill seemed certain. They were run again just before Labor Day, when passage again seemed assured...then again in mid-October, then before Halloween, then Thanksgiving… Each proclaimed the Health Care Bill a done-deal. All that remained was to take the final vote to send the bill to the President’s desk for signing.

We are now coming up on the third week of March, 2010. Spring is just days away, and the whole blessed Health Care Bill is still gathering dust on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk; un-voted upon. The reason Speaker Pelosi hasn’t yet called for the final House vote is obvious; there aren’t enough Democrats willing to vote for it. It’s just that simple.

Democratic leaders are said to be working furiously. President Obama has postponed his Asian trip to “work on the bill”…Work on the bill? Who are they trying to kid? They can’t change one word in the bill or it has to go back to the Senate where -- as of January 19th -- they no longer have enough Democrats to pass it. It's this bill, warts and all, or nothing. What the phrase “working on the bill” means is they are working to bribe or coerce the few reluctant Democrats to get on-board the bandwagon.

It is said that every man has his price, and House and Senate leaders have spent the last thirteen months in closed door meetings trying to determine each member's price-point, either personally or on behalf of a particular constituency, and then setting about to make sure they get the juice. Some of this juice has become public knowledge and is seen as outrageously laughable. For as long as the sun continues to rise in the east and there remain politics and politicians on the face of the earth, the “Louisiana Purchase”, the Florida “gator aid”, and the Corn Husker Kick-Back will be the stuff of legend. Back room deals don't get any more clownish than that.

Suffice it to say that by now everybody who needed to be taken care of has been taken care of. It has become clear that Leadership has run out of donkeys that will follow carrots dangled in front of them. In order to move the legislative cart any further nothing remains but to get out the stick.

This is where The Chicago Way of doing things comes into play and things can get ugly, because this is where the Administration sends out the message, “Last call for carrots!”

As an example of what can happen to those who refuse to cooperate, consider Eric Massa, now an Ex-Congressman from New York.

Until ten days ago Representative Massa was unknown to the public. It’s even a safe bet that if Jay Leno had done one of his Jay Walking routines in Upstate New York and asked “Who’s the Vice President of the United States? Who’s your Congressional Representative?” He’d have gotten embarrassed chuckles but few right answers.

However, Representative Massa was well-known in Washington, where he made it clear that believed the Health Care Bill did not go far enough. For that reason he planned to vote against it. Got that?

Unfortunately for Rep. Massa, this is not what party leaders need to hear right now. Equally unfortunate, there are some kinky skeletons in Massa’s closet.

Hints of these skeletons began to leak, bone by bone, out of the Congressional Ethics Committee. Surprise, then shock was expressed. In a matter of days Massa was gone.

But, you notice fellow New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, also the subject of an Ethics Committee investigation on tax and bribery charges, is still there... Rangel is a reliable "yes" vote.

It is impossible to believe that much of this came as news to anyone in the Washington power structure, as was claimed, until Massa made some inappropriate remarks at a wedding party in January. Eric Massa ran successfully as a Democrat for the US House of Representatives. That means he went through the nomination process and the election process. He was interviewed many times by Party leaders. He was assigned a DNC team of handlers; he had his background checked; he garnered endorsements, raised money, and shook thousands of hands in DC and in New York. It is simply impossible to believe that in the 24/7 pressure of a campaign somebody did not trip over one of the kinks in Massa's personality.

As clearly troubled as Massa appears, chances are someone did trip over them; likely several some-ones. And as soon as they said, “Whoops! We’ve got a problem here in the 29th District!” someone else higher up the ladder told them to keep their mouths shut. They pegged Massa as a strange one, word was passed along, discussions were held, information was put into a dossier, and the whole thing was kept locked away... until recently.

News out now is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was officially notified about Massa last October. Although, Speaker Pelosi states she personally didn’t get the word but her that her staff did.

“There are many rumors in Washington.” About whom, she didn’t say.

If it is true that staff didn’t pass word along to the Speaker then they were derelict in their duty. Further, Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a District in San Francisco. She should be able to pick up on various cues.

Here is a suspicion of what happened. Eric Massa wouldn’t budge on his “no” vote. Remember there were quite a lot of Liberal Democrats who said they would vote no unless the bill was made stronger. But, one by one they all fell in line. Not Massa. So, they got out the stick and let him have it.

In Chicago there are two kinds of mob hits: the quiet-kind where the victim just disappears; the body dumped in a landfill or sent to the bottom of Lake Michigan never to be seen again. Then there's The Big Noise, where the victim is whacked in some public place like a restaurant, splattered against a wall in front of a lot of witnesses. The later method is used to send a message; “Don’t let this happen to you.”

Would the Washington power structure do anything this dark, this devious? That's an unpleasant question to contemplate. There is a lot of money and power at stake. They've invested over a year in putting this deal across. If it goes down they've got nothing. So, would they? Speaker Pelosi referenced other "rumors". Certainly what happened to Eric Massa weighs on the other dozen or so Health Care hold-outs. Doubtless they quickly assessed their own pasts. Could there be anything they wouldn't want their families to see splashed across the evening news?

The Eric Massa story, "whether he fell or whether he was pushed" carries the clear inherent message; "The Health Care Bill has been stalled long enough. No more carrots. From now on there's nothing but stick."

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