Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bipartisan Fairness

Since I am a registered Democrat, I feel some justification in agreeing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that this is a time when Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be spending more time in the Senate chambers doing the people's business than they are spending on the campaign trail (and showing up in time to vote only scratches the surface of what constitutes "the people's business"). Nevertheless, as Laurie Kellman reported last night for Associated Press, it would be unfair not to tar John McCain with the same brush:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain skipped a difficult Senate vote Wednesday on whether to make 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans eligible for rebate checks as part of a proposed economic stimulus package.

The Arizona senator's decision to miss the vote appeared to come at the last minute, after his plane had landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington just before the proceedings opened on the Senate floor.

Asked Wednesday morning to comment on the pending vote, McCain talked about the need to pass a stimulus measure quickly. Later, on his plane, he said he was not sure he would make the vote.

"I haven't had a chance to talk about it at all, have not had the opportunity to, even," McCain said. "We've just been too busy, focused on other stuff. I don't know if I'm doing that. We've got a couple of meetings scheduled."

In other words Obama and Clinton deserve faint praise for at least showing up to vote, which, for now at least, differentiates them from their Republican colleague (who has not been shy about his thoughts, or lack thereof, on economic matters). However, Kellman then goes on to explore whether or not McCain's absence may have been a calculated political move:

Senate Democrats cleverly bundled the rebates for seniors and veterans, key voting blocs, with expanded unemployment benefits and home heating subsidies for the jobless and poor.

President Bush and Republican leaders, as well as conservatives McCain was scheduled to woo on Thursday, vehemently oppose the expanded benefits and subsidies.

That put McCain in a bad political spot.

Voting "no" with Republican leaders would have offended millions of Social Security recipients and the disabled veterans not scheduled to receive rebates. Voting "yes," on the other hand, risked alienating Bush, GOP leaders and conservatives already suspicious of McCain's political leanings. McCain was speaking Thursday before a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a group that booed him last year in absentia.

For McCain, not voting meant not going on the record either way. He has missed all eight Senate roll call votes this year.

Thus, had McCain actually been on the Senate floor, he probably would have been acting more from his desire to be President than from his elected responsibility to represent his constituents. It is probably naive, but I would have expected more from the only currently campaigning candidate to have explicitly come out against the use of signing statements.

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