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Sausage Makers

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At this point more people (at least in the U.S.) probably know Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck more for his remark that “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made,” than for his central role in unifying Germany back in the mid-1800s.

In addition to having an Oscar Wildean point and wit, the truth of the remark plays out daily as legislatures grind their way through whatever it is they are supposed to be making.

The current debate over health care reform once again proves how on target Bismarck’s remark was and also proves that our own U.S. Senate, that august gathering of 100 solons, is not only the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” but also the “world’s greatest sausage maker.”

The progress (to be kind) of the deliberations in the Senate Finance Committee has been painful to watch, to put it mildly.  This was less so when it was only the Gang of Six that was attempting to construct what would be the Senate’s version of reform.  At that point, it was only the leaks that had to be followed in the course of those ultra-secret negotiations.  But now that the game is public, we can’t escape the unseemliness of the process.

[See a previous blog entry for some interesting information on the Gang of Six.]

But even before the process went public it was painful to see poor Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee’s chairman, twisting himself into the senatorial version of a pretzel in order to try to achieve “a bipartisan solution” for health care reform.

Poor Max!  All that twisting and turning for naught! Not a single Republican member of the committee supported his draft.  And it was pitiful as well to see how Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican member of the committee, drew further and further away from Baucus, with whom he had worked so closely with in the past. 

Grassley is running scared in Iowa where he is under severe pressure to prove his conservative bona fides.  Thus, his remark that government is “a predator.”  Gee, Chuck, that may want to make you reconsider those juicy subsidies that ethanol producers (in Iowa) get from the predatory government.

And then when the committee voted on the public option amendments offered by Sen. John Rockefeller, D.W.Va., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Baucus opposed them because he felt the 60 votes needed in the Senate couldn’t be rounded up if the public option was included. 

“There’s a lot to like about a public option,” Baucus said, before putting in the knife. Sometimes, I guess, you just have to kill the thing you love.

It is way past time for an overhaul of senatorial traditions so that a majority in that body is the same as a majority everywhere else.  That is to say, in the case of the senate, 50 plus one.

But I digress…no doubt to get away from how painful this whole process has been and how little we can expect from our political structure today.

What the end result of all this twisting and turning and posturing and denouncing will be is anybody’s guess.  It’s likely, however, that health care reform will probably end up needing first aid.

In any case, the legislative process that has been grinding down health care reform just goes to show why, in many languages, another name for sausage is baloney.