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Iowans should reject the fallacy of ineffective congressional Democrats

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 09, 2010 7:30 AM

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Politics can be emotional. Health-care reform. Immigration. Bank bailouts. Decisions on these issues affect millions, and citizens and lawmakers are right to stake out strongly held positions.

But, as intransigent Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley and conservative Democrats stall health-care reform, it’s important to reassert the primacy of informed discussion over visceral squabbling.

It is imperative that Iowans are civically knowledgeable and can form coherent opinions rooted in fact — not half-truths or politically charged statements. Only then can we truly hold elected officials accountable. This is especially true for the health-care debate, which has highlighted sometimes-overlooked rules such as the Senate filibuster.

A recent Pew poll found that only 26 percent of Americans are aware it takes 60 senators to break a filibuster, an alarming statistic because of the rule’s importance in the health-care debate.

The health-care debate has underscored the shift in political tactics over the past couple decades. What was once a last-ditch tactic used mostly by those opposed to civil-rights legislation is now a factor in almost all Senate debates. Republicans have used the filibuster to their advantage, creating a seemingly insuperable hurdle. As it stands, it’s difficult even for a party with a large majority to pass its agenda with a cohesive, obdurate minority.

While Iowans may hold Democrats accountable for failure to pass health-care reform so far, it’s imperative they remain cognizant of that fact. It’s difficult for citizens to hold their senators accountable when they are ignorant of basic rules and don’t recognize the inherent inertia of the Senate. Despite Democrats’ huge majority — one of the largest in decades — mostly Republican opponents need just 41 votes to halt health-care reform.

It’s easy for opponents of Obama’s agenda to paint Republican tactics as simply a defensive mechanism — conservatives taking a stance for what is right — but in the end, it’s simply cynical expediency.

“Republicans have decided to become an obstructionist party,” UI political-science Associate Professor Cary Covington said. “They don’t want the Democrats to get credit for passing anything.”

The GOP is working to achieve political capital — or “credit,” as Covington called it — by any means necessary. But its obstructionist tactics fly in the face of healthy political discourse and instead prey on the ignorance and disconnect of normal citizens.

It is the citizens’ duty, as the voice of the republic, to maintain a competent knowledge of the political process and democratic governance. If citizens fail to recognize Republicans’ political posturing, they may unjustifiably paint the Democrats as the party of inaction. Such a characterization is not based in reality.

President Obama’s call over the weekend for a televised bipartisan summit on health care is admirable, and it will offer Americans the opportunity to see open debate on the issue. But whatever Iowans’ opinions — and others around the nation — after the summit, they should remain aware of the procedural constraints on Democrats. Depending on your political leanings, hold Democratic lawmakers accountable for their attempts to pass health-care reform.

Just don’t claim they haven’t tried.


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