Go home, Democrats

    My advice to the AWOL Democratic lawmakers who have fled Wisconsin and Indiana: Go home and do your job.

    As you surely know by now, those state legislators have opted to live on the lam rather than remain in their respective state capitals; had they stayed, they’d be compelled to cast their votes on the historic Republican proposals to slash the collective bargaining rights of public unions. And those are losing votes, because the Republicans now control the chambers and the gubernatorial jobs in both states.

    I argued here on Monday that the Republican assaults on the public unions, erroneously blaming those unions for the budgetary red ink, is thinly-veiled class warfare – waged at the behest of the ideological right-wingers and their rich business benefactors. I may disagree with those political and policy strategies, but the bottom line is, the Republicans won the ’10 elections in Wisconsin and Indiana. Particularly in Wisconsin, they vowed last autumn to target public unions and take other drastic budget-cutting measures, and voters rewarded that broad promise by electing a Republican legislature and a Republican governor.

    Elections have consequences; that’s how a representative democracy is supposed to work. Indeed, Democrats in Washington frequently made that argument back in 2009, when they cited the ’08 results as justification for their pursuit of health care reform and economic stimulus. And they frequently complained that the obstructionist Republicans were defying majority rule. Imagine what they would have said if the Republicans had opted to flee town entirely, rather than do their jobs.

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    Yet, in the current standoff, Democrats and other defenders of the public unions seem to think it’s fine that the Wisconsin and Indiana lawmakers have flouted majority rule, and the democratic process itself, by fleeing across the border. The pro-union camp seems to have a blind spot about this. If the situation were reversed – if Democrats were running those states and seeking to enact ambitious liberal programs, and if minority Republican lawmakers had skipped town in order to prevent enactment – you can bet that liberals would be condemning the GOP boycotters for defying the will of the people.

    Fortunately, these on-the-lam episodes are quite rare. Only a handful of states – Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and Oregon – require that virtually all lawmakers be present before business can be conducted. In other words, a “supermajority quorum.” (Some conservatives have warned that the Wisconsin and Indiana walkouts could inspire the same tactics nationwide – a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, which is bankrolled by the rich anti-union Koch brothers, has claimed that the Wisconsin walkout will “set a precedent that could lead to legislators elsewhere doing the same thing when elections don’t go their way” – but they forgot to check the facts first.)

    Still, even these rarities rub me wrong. If elections have consequences, then lawmakers on the losing side should stay in their posts and deal with the consquences.

    I remember making that point back in September 2003, when 10 Democratic state senators from Texas fled their state in an attempt to stop the majority Republicans from passing a major program that the Democrats didn’t like. (The GOP was trying to create more GOP-friendly congressional districts. I won’t bore you with the details.)

    Anyway, the 10 Democrats decamped to a dreary Marriott hotel in New Mexico. They stayed six weeks, mostly watching TV and doing laundry. I went down there, and hung out with them for awhile. One lawmaker, Gonzalo Barrientos, was holding firm, even though he was dying to go home; as he told me, “I’ve got a ’54 Chevy convertible. Mellow yellow outside, green interior. I’m having it renovated, and it’s almost done. Two nights ago, I dreamed about that damn car. Can’t wait to drive it. Put the top down, cruise down the street. Yell out, ‘Hey, dudes, what’s going on?’ That would be cool.”

    I asked these boycotters, wasn’t it chicken to run away? Texas voters had awarded both chambers to the Republicans; wasn’t it the Democrats’ responsibility to at least respect the majority will and participate in the democratic legislative process?

    And they said, no, they were living on the lam in order to protest “tyranny.” Shortly thereafter, however, they finally gave up, returned to Austin, and voted on the losing side – but not before one lawmaker grumbled to me that the walkout had been necessary because “politics these days is war without end.”

    I didn’t buy their tactic, but that comment sounds about right.——-

    Meanwhile, if you’re tracking the federal court rulings on health care reform, the score is now 3-2 in favor of the historic new law.

    In Washington yesterday, federal trial judge Gladys Kessler, a Clinton appointee, ruled that it’s a legitimate exercise of congressional power to require Americans to buy health insurance, in part because the so-called freedom not to purchase merely shifts the economic burden to everybody else:

    “The individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage….

    “To put it less analytically, and less charitably, those who choose…not to purchase health insurance will benefit greatly when they become ill, as they surely will, from the free health care which must be provided by emergency rooms and hospitals to the sick and dying who show up on their doorstep. In short, those who choose not to purchase health insurance will ultimately get a ‘free ride’ on the backs of those Americans who have made responsible choices to provide for the illness we all must face at some point in our lives…

    “Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.”

    But two federal judges, both Republican appointees, have ruled otherwise. Kessler duly noted, “It is highly likely that a decision by the United States Supreme Court will be required,” which strikes me as quite the understatement.

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