You can be a maverick if your party says it’s okay

Originally posted by me elsewhere on 10/29/2010

During the legislative process for health care reform, I learned all sorts of disappointing things about Congress, for instance that members of Congress routinely vote on bills which they haven’t read. Then we had Rep. Conyers explaining how ridiculous it was for people to expect their representatives in Congress to read the bill because he confessed that he wouldn’t be able to understand it even if he did read it. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained that it was necessary to pass the bill so we could discover what it was about.

But the most disappointing thing that I learned was that the Democratic defectors had been given permission to defect by their party’s leadership.

Let’s take another look at this article on the health care reform vote in the House which was published by The Hill. In order to pass the bill, the Democratic party could only afford 37 defections from their party. The party whip for the majority party had tried to make sure there were enough votes to pass the bill before the House Speaker had even called for a vote. But people might impulsively change their mind. So just in case there were some unexpected defections, a large portion of the potential defectors had been requested by their leaders to stand around and wait until the bill had passed (in other words, until there had already been 216 votes in favor). Then the mavericks would be allowed to cast their “no” vote. However if there were unexpected difficulties getting to that 216th vote, the party leaders would pressure some portion of the would-be mavericks to forget about that and vote with their party. And the fact that they agreed to stand around and wait for the bill to pass meant that they were willing to switch sides.

In fact it is worse that that. Party leaders decide before hand which representatives are in “hostile territory” — which means that they represent districts where the constituents typically favor the other party. So the mavericks are pre-screened so to speak.

Of course not every Democrat who voted “no” on health care reform waited for their leadership to say it was okay. Rep. Gene Taylor had been a staunch opponent to the bill from the beginning; he recommended that anyone who was serious about voting “no” should vote early and leave. Otherwise they would be treated like a “piñata” by the party leadership.

As a voter this means it is very hard for me to look at an individual candidate as an individual. Yes, there are representatives who vote with conviction on matters of great importance to their constituents. And there are representatives who wait for their leadership to tell them it’s okay for them to cast a politically expedient vote because of the hostile territory they represent.

Now when it’s time to vote for a member of the House of Representatives, I feel like I have to vote for the party instead of the individual. After all it seems to be the Party that’s calling the shots.

What do you think?

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