Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Senate's Wheel of Vote Rotation

Despite flowery speeches and grand statements about protecting the middle class, it is the Senate’s roll call votes that are the true measure of a Senator’s worth.  A voting record that covers six years in office is more revealing than any 60 Minute interview and communicates more about a Senator’s true beliefs than any Floor speech  – and it is the civic responsibility of citizens to scrutinize those votes or risk being snookered by those who cast votes contrary to the best interests of their constituents.

Bringing new meaning to the old adage that ‘actions speak louder than words,” any citizen curious about how their Senator votes and willing to take the time to monitor those votes, will find that after staring at endless lists of the ayes and nays, it becomes apparent that something does not compute.  A close examination of the public record reveals a plethora of inexplicable Democratic Senate votes in conflict with perceived Democratic principles, votes that were sufficient to defeat certain progressive legislation, most often by a narrow margin.

At first glance, one irregular vote may appear to be just a ‘bad day at the office’ or an aberration when a liberal Senate Democrat votes against an amendment they would be expected to support or votes in favor of legislation they would normally be expected to oppose.  What may seem like trivial minutiae to others is more than just an academic exercise.   The act of sifting through lists of Senate names marked with a Y or a N searching for clues takes on a life of its own with the awareness that there is more here than meets the eye.  

One vote gone awry is only one vote - until it becomes a pattern of ‘bad’ behavior responsible for really important social legislation like the DREAM Act to be defeated as it was in the Senate in December, 2010.  At first, the possibility of collusion on votes may seem a preposterous theory but the recorded votes, enshrined in the Congressional Record, do not lie.

On the surface, there appears to be no logic to justify those baffling Senate votes and monitoring a Senator’s voting history for a length of time becomes a puzzling, sometimes frustrating avocation until suddenly one day, out of the blue, the obvious becomes apparent with the most plausible explanation - the existence of a Wheel of Vote Rotation.  

Hidden deep within one Senator’s voting record, rarely scrutinized for its commitment to a broad progressive philosophy, is evidence of the Senate’s near-total breakdown and its inability to function as a vibrant democratic institution.  When viewed in a wholistic way, from a ‘big’ picture perspective rather than taking each vote as a random separate act, the individual votes become the whole, a pattern emerges with each vote creating a larger paradigm.  It is in reviewing that totality that aberrant votes are most readily apparent.   
The DREAM  (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act provided a path to citizenship for immigrant children who had been in the United States for at least five years and were pursuing higher education or military enlistment.   

During the Congressional lame duck Session of 2010, the still Democratically -controlled House adopted the Act (HR 2965) by a vote of 216 in favor (including 8 Republicans) vs. 198 against (including 38 Democrats.)   With 60 Democrats in the majority in the Senate, the Act (S 3992) went on to lose on a vote of 59 Yes vs. 40 No votes.  Only in the US Senate can 59 votes be declared the losing side while 40 votes carries the day, thanks to the Senate’s acceptance of an arbitrary 60 vote requirement to break a filibuster.    
But here’s the rub on the Dream Act:  Four Senate Democrats (Feingold, Menendez, Merkley and Pryor) voted against the Act while five Republicans (Murkowski, Corker, Crapo, Risch and Vitter) voted in Favor of the Act.  A  reasonable question is what motivated Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive hero who’d been defeated for re-election and was on his way out of the Senate, to vote against citizenship for immigrant children - or why Sen. Bob Menendez, himself the son of Cuban immigrants, voted to not support the Act?  As the votes were being counted that day with ultimately one vote making the difference, did it ever occur to the liberals (Feingold, Menendez or Merkley) that unless they switched their vote, thousands of immigrant children who’d grown up in the United States, the only home they’d ever known, would be denied citizenship and doomed to live in fear of deportation? 

What happened to the Dream Act was not an anomaly and can be found on a wide variety of ‘big’ legislative votes on high profile progressive issues like Supreme Court confirmations (see including assorted war funding and Patriot Act votes among others.   What happened to the Dream Act is a reflection of how totally the elite political-corporate-financial establishment dominates the public’s business.   
Hypothetically, the game is played  after a vigorous spin of the Wheel by the Wizard of Oz.  Each Senator takes a turn casting a ‘bad’ vote; like any prizefighter ‘throwing’ a bout, often enough to spread the burden out over a period of time and to shift the focus so as not to arouse undesirable attention.  

Under the guise of preserving a historic Senate procedure, the Senate’s arcane process of roll call votes, considerably less open and transparent than the House with no electronic tally board, further provides an opportunity to quietly rotate votes without being exposed publicly.  As CSPAN viewers have noted, Senate votes are cast with the public largely in the dark until the final tally is announced.   
Predominately a function of Democrats who have had an identity crisis since the 1980’s, the Wheel of Vote Rotation applies less to Republicans since they vote in block almost 100% of the time and the Republican base is not as easily duped as the more gullible Democratic base.  Senator Bernie Sanders who routinely challenges the ruling oligarchy with relish as if his job depended on it, is the only known exception to the Wheel game.    

There is also a Vote Swinger Option which allows a Senator to be accepted as an unreliable Democratic vote.  Senators Ben Nelson (D-ND) and Joe Leiberman (I-CT) come readily to mind.  This Option comes in handy so that, when necessary,  ‘swing’ votes will not be considered an unusual occurrence.  With no apparent consequence from the Democratic Party, after endorsing John McCain in 2008, Leiberman was rewarded with Chair of the important Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee while the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has already contributed $1 million to Nelson’s 2012 re-election.  Republicans have no comparable Vote Swingers.   
Above all, vote rotation must maintain the appearance of spontaneity for the results to be seen as credible and be apportioned only on very special votes. A tip-off that the Wheel is ‘in play’ is when “moderate’ Democrats like Sens. Kent Conrad or Max Baucus vote (against their natural inclination) in a progressive way as they did on the Dream Act.    

If the vote rotation hypothesis seems like an improbable theory, skeptics can easily (dis)prove its validity for themselves by conducting their own meticulous scrutiny of Senatorial votes that fit a progressive profile. 
 Whether the Senate’s Ethical Deficit Disorder is due to a formalized vote rotation system or whether we are naïve enough to believe that those perverse votes are merely spontaneous errors in judgment, the implications of how a publicly-elected, taxpayer-funded Senator participates in a 21st Century election scam, should be enough to disqualify them from continued public service.  

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