And the award goes to [drumroll, please] Enrique Rangel of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal for his article complaining about the delaying tactics employed by Democrats during the Voter ID debate. Talk about media bias. Every sentence word is suffused with the implication that the Republicans have the right to pass their agenda without interference. Oh, those mean old Democrats. Calling points of order. The nerve of them. The column follows. I will make some remarks in italics. AUSTIN — It took the Texas House of Representatives almost a week, including a long day of debate on Wednesday, to finally pass a bill that would require voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. So much for a voter ID bill Gov. Rick Perry declared an emergency at the start of the current legislative session. So much for a voter ID bill some Republicans said would be a slam dunk. So much for an ambitious conservative agenda. And so much for a 101-49 Republican super majority. Mr. Rangel makes it sound as if the Democrats won. He makes it sound as if the conservative agenda is in peril. He makes it sound as if the Republican majority has been rendered powerless — when, of course, the opposite is true about all these points. The Republicans can pass anything they want to pass. (One commenter to this blog noted that Republicans have the votes to rewrite the Texas Constitution from scratch if they wish to do so.) Rangel continues: More on those points later but first, for those of you keeping track there are only 65 days left in the 140-day regular session of the 82nd Legislature. This is past the mid-point and as noted in previous columns, time is of the essence because the lawmakers haven’t even gotten to the heavy agenda which is redistricting and the budget bill. “This means, as veteran House Republicans John Smithee of Amarillo and Warren Chisum of Pampa noted, that from now until May 30, the last day of the session, each daily meeting is going to be a meat grinder — often going into the wee hours of the next morning — if they want to pass major legislation.” “Smithee even predicts the budget bill, which usually takes one day to pass — albeit a long one, from about 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. the next morning — may take as long as four days when it gets to the House floor next Friday.” Yes, it would be so much more convenient if the Democrats just went home and got their beauty sleep. But parliamentary procedure doesn’t work that way, thank goodness. Rangel doesn’t get it. The legislative process exists to protect the members. Not the Republican members. All the members. It exists to establish the rules for debate. Obviously, Mr. Rangel thinks that it is a silly requirement–to use one example from the Voter ID debate–that the bill analysis has to be consistent with the legislation, that if the bill refers to “days” and the bill analysis refers to “business days,” well, no harm, no foul. But there is harm. If the discrepancy is allowed to linger, the intention of the Legislature can be ambiguous. It is true that the overwhelming majority of the public doesn’t know or care about the discrepancy, but legislators themselves have to care. Precision of language is crucial in the drafting and crafting of legislation. “And no wonder. With massive spending cuts to offset a revenue shortfall of as much as $27 billion for the next two fiscal years, you have to anticipate a lot of opposition to the proposed cuts, even from some Republicans.” “This brings us to the House Democrats again.” “At the risk of beating a dead horse because I have previously addressed this issue, the debate on the voter ID bill and the sonogram bill two weeks earlier — the only major bills the House has passed so far — showed that although the Democrats don’t have the votes to kill most legislation they oppose, they have two big weapons at their disposal. One is the House rules and the other is the clock.” Whether intentionally or not, Mr. Rangel is echoing the rhetoric of the Tea Party: the majority has spoken, the Republicans won the election, and they have the right to pass their agenda. I agree with #1 and #2. But not #3. The majority has to earn its victory, and if that means staying in session all through the night, well, there’s always coffee in the members’ lounge. Mr. Rangel would deprive the minority of the only weapons at their disposal. In describing the Democrats’ arsenal–the rules and the clock–he left out their biggest weapon: smarts. The Democrats have been playing the government game longer than the Republicans, who are still relatively new to power and are making quite the mess of it. The D’s can tie the R’s up in knots from the back microphone; they can get their message out through the media, they can kill a few bills with delay tactics, they may even get a favorable ruling from the chair every now and then, but they can’t win. Yet Rangel sees the Democrats as the bullies and the Republicans as the victims. “Chisum and other Republicans say the Democrats used numerous points of order and amendments to delay passage of the voter ID and sonogram bills, in both instance keeping the chamber in session from mid-morning to late at night.” “And those Republicans say what the Democrats are doing is using delay tactics.” “But Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, leader of the House Democrats, says it ain’t so. In her view, the Republicans are in such a hurry to pass their legislative priorities they are being sloppy. This is the reason the Democrats use the points of order, which are delays and even killings of bills on technicalities as simple as a missing or misspelled word.” “Smithee, a 26-year veteran in the Legislature, said he thinks the points of order are becoming an industry in itself because he suspects that people with eagle eyes are hired to look for anything which could delay or even kill a bill.” “And with the budget, redistricting, and lots of other contentious bills still to come, you can expect a lot more points of order.” “And that, along with the fact the clock is already ticking, makes it possible that although the Democrats don’t have the votes to kill most legislation they oppose, most of those bills could be derailed because of technicalities or missed deadlines.” “In short, although Perry’s emergency items are likely to become law, most of the conservative agenda a good number of Republicans promised to their political base is in jeopardy — even if they have a super majority in the House and a comfortable majority in the Senate.” Nonsense. The Republicans have a 101 to 49 majority. If they can’t pass their agenda, it’s not the Democrats fault. It’s their own.
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