25 March 2010

Viagra for Sex Offenders?

There was a little buzz on Twitter last night that the Democrats in the Senate had killed an amendment which would have prohibited federal funding for Erectile Dysfunction medications for sex offenders, which means in the upside-down logic of Washington DC that the Democrats favor giving Viagra to pedophiles. Right?

Well, not exactly.

First, just a point of procedure: Remember, the Health Care Reform Law is now law, on the books, signed by the President. But there was this reconciliation side-car bill which was meant to fix the HCR Law as originally passed; it was passed in the House pretty much as soon as the Senate bill was passed. But it had to pass the Senate in the identical form, word for word, in order to go directly to Obama's desk for signing. If the Senate mucked things up by tacking on amendments, it would have to go back to the House for approval -- and given the razor-thin margin in the House, Democrats very much wanted to avoid that. So, in a rare display of caucus discipline, the Senate Dems decided not to offer or approve any amendments at all.

It's worth noting that progressives in particular passed on a real opportunity here. They could have tacked on a public option or medicare buy-in fairly easily, since the Nelson-Lincoln-Lieberman veto would have been irrelevant. They decided not to, in part because they didn't want to screw up the deal that had been struck, and in part out of sheer exhaustion.

The Senate GOP, however, saw this as a great opportunity to have a little political fun. If they could attach a poison-pill amendment, it could kill the reconciliation bill outright. (Of course, we'd still have HCR passed, but a smaller and more flawed version.) Better yet, they could make the Democrats take a series of embarrassing votes that could be used as campaign attack ads come November.

Hence, the "No viagra for sex offenders" amendment was born. Along with 28 other frivolous amendments, including a couple which would have repealed HCR entirely, they were offered and defeated last night.

Bear in mind that there isn't currently a "sex offenders get free viagra" clause in the HCR bill that needed removing. Sure it's possible that a sex offender could buy a subsidized health insurance policy that covered erectile dysfunction, but then a lot of things are possible under HCR -- maybe panty-sniffing fetishists will want sex changes. Whatever. This amendment wasn't about a good faith effort to address the issue; it was an effort to embarrass Democrats. And just in case there was any possibility that the Dems might have approved the amendment, he tacked on one other line: "prohibits coverage of abortion drugs." Which of course would have blown up the whole thing if it did pass, making it even more of a must-defeat amendment. Funny how the "Viagra" element got all the press and the abortion rider was never mentioned, eh?

I don't disapprove of this sort of tactic, other than as a mild waste of time in an institution that wastes a lot of time on stunts and grandstanding. And you have to give credit to professional jackass Senator Coburn -- this amendment is a work of art, in its way. Nothing wrong with it, and the Democrats would be well advised to make the Republicans take some hard votes in the same manner.

But understand it for what it is: theater and attack-ad fodder, not a serious effort at governing.