This week, Americans get to see the difference between a party that respects the rule of law and one that holds it in contempt.
Earlier this week, Senate Democrats got a food safety bill passed – then discovered a procedural problem with constitutional implications: One section of the Senate bill would raise revenue, but the Constitution requires revenue bills to originate in the House. Now, in the face of Republican obstruction, Democratic leaders are working to figure out how to get the bill passed correctly before time runs out.
While the headlines are on the mistake, the main focus really should be on how Democratic leaders are responding appropriately to it – in stark contrast to how Republican leaders dealt with a similar foul-up in February 2006, when they controlled Congress. GOP leaders sent a bill for the president’s signature that they knew had not passed the House.
The Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 squeaked through the Senate after Vice President Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote. But when the bill was transmitted to the House, in a mistake that no one noticed at the time, one of the numbers in the bill text was changed, changing the rights of Medicare recipients and creating a $2 billion difference between the two bills. The House passed its version with a bare two-vote margin. Then Republican leaders discovered that the two chambers had voted on different bills, meaning that a basic constitutional requirement had not been met.
Having a revote would have been politically difficult. So, faced with a choice between their partisan political agenda and the United States Constitution, GOP leaders chose … politics. They sent the Senate version to the White House for President Bush’s signature, with the Republican Speaker’s false certification that it had passed both chambers.
As the Washington Post reported at the time:
Once the mistake was revealed, Republican leaders were loath to fight the battle again by having another vote, so White House officials simply deemed the Senate version to be the law. …
The issue would be solved if the House voted again, this time on the version that passed the Senate. But that would mark the third time House members would have to cast their votes on a politically difficult bill, containing cuts in many popular programs, and it would be that much closer to the November election.
The way the two parties handled similar situations speaks volumes about their commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.