03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Is Political Compromise Really Extortion and Bribery?

I am pleased that health care reform has been approved (although its final form is yet to be resolved). But the process has demonstrated that there are elected officials who have the power to veto legislation even before it is presented for a vote, insist upon amendments based upon personal or religious preferences or merely to gain special favor for the constituency which they represent. Surprisingly, none of these persons are the president of the United States, but rather they are senators reaping the benefit of the 60 vote cloture rule. Over the history of this country we have learned and accepted the proposition that in order for legislation to be enacted, compromises must be made to bring recalcitrant parties on board.

If the insurance industry offered Democrats huge campaign contributions to reject the health care bill, we would be outraged and call it "bribery," but when the Democrats themselves offer benefits for its support, we call it "compromise". What makes it particularly galling is when the benefits are conferred upon Sen. Ben Nelson, the Senate's most outspoken Democratic advocate against federal funding and insurance for abortions. His proposed abortion amendment discriminates against women. It is motivated by religious belief. It purports merely to continue the status quo -- an argument that probably was made to continue slavery, discrimination, segregation and denying women the right to vote.

As I have said in an earlier post, certain religious groups are opposed to homosexuality. Could the exclusion of coverage for gays and lesbians and the treatment of AIDS possibly survive either legislative or judicial scrutiny? An entire group of persons should not be excluded from coverage merely because certain religious groups are opposed to them, their lifestyle or their beliefs. Abortion is legal in this country. The pro-life view is to be respected, but it should not be allowed to deny government funded coverage to those who need it and believe otherwise.

So we not only maintain this discriminatory policy, but reward its prime advocate. I concede that this is not an outright bribe. Money is not being handed to Sen. Nelson for his personal use. But it is certainly the equivalent to a campaign contribution. He can point to his obtaining an exemption for Nebraska's expanded Medicaid costs as a major accomplishment of his tenure. He extorted it and got a pay-off. Call it what you will in Congress, but the voters know what it is.

This power to extort derives directly from the 60 vote cloture rule of the Senate. It might be wielded even if a simple majority were required, but the difficulty in obtaining 60 votes enhances the power of the hold-out senators. Either let the filibusters happen and show the country who the obstructionists are, abolish the rule or even consider abolishing the Senate itself (it will never happen) and let the majority rule in the House. The power wielded by individual senators is too often disproportionate to the number of citizens they actually represent.

Note: I wrestled with continuance of the 60 vote cloture rule in an earlier post.