Now Indifferent to Congress Wasting Time, Media Give Harry Reid a Pass on Unconstitutional Stunt

May 18th, 2011 9:16 AM

Since last year's elections, the GOP has spearheaded a number of efforts derided by various reporters as wastes of time or distracting political gimmicks. None of the reporters so concerned about Congress's valuable time, however, seemed too concerned when Harry Reid brought bill to the Senate floor Tuesday evening fully aware that it could not gain congressional approval for the simple reason that it was unconstitutional.

Reid's admitted goal was simply to score political points against Republicans by forcing them to preserve standard tax benefits for oil companies (benefits enjoyed by virtually every American company). But he acknowledged Tuesday that he knew the measure was unconstitutional, so the whole thing was just a political farce.

And yet it hasn't drawn the media scorn to any notable degree, in stark contrast to GOP proposals to read of the Constitution to kick off the session in January or to repeal ObamaCare later that month, both of which were blasted in the press as, essentially, wastes of time.

But first, some background on Reid's move, as reported by Brian Beutler of the left-wing Talking Points Memo (the bill failed in the Senate by a vote of 52-48):

"The question is if the bill passes the Senate, it will run into a blue-slip problem," Reid said at his weekly Capitol press conference. Blue slipping is the process the House uses to reject Senate bills that impact tax and spending.

Reid joked, "That's the least of my worries."

He and most of the Dem caucus couldn't be happier that their Republican counterparts are circling their wagons around big oil companies to protect their multi-billion dollar annual tax subsidies. And they'll have great fodder for attack ads starting Tuesday night, when a Senate bill that would rescind those subsidies is expected to fail along party lines.

But even if by some miracle it passes, it would have to be shelved. In their zeal to put Republicans on the spot, Democrats neglected one key technicality: eliminating tax loopholes raises revenues, and any legislation that raises revenues must, according to the Constitution, originate in the House of Representatives.

Leave aside for a moment the fact that a Senate Majority Leader proclaiming the constitutionality of legislation to be the "least of my worries" underscores the precise need the Republican proposal to recite the Constitution as a symbolic kick-off to the 112th.

For our purposes here, the more telling trend is the total lack of concern for all the time and money that the stunt is wasting - a concern that elicited quite a bit of hand-wringing when the GOP proposed that Congress simply read the document it's sworn to uphold.

Feigned outrage over the Constitution-reading reached comic proportions at Vanity Fair, where a pair of writers took the time to calculate the apparent "cost" of reading the Constitution by measuring the value of each hour Congress spends in session. Their conclusion: the move cost taxpayers $1.1 million, though they admitted that was "more back-of-the-envelope than exact."

When one chamber of Congress is in session but not working, we the people still have to pay for members’ salaries and expenses, and for their police protection, and for keeping their lights and phones and coffee machines on. Even Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Mike Pence (R-IN) combined don’t blow enough hot air to heat the Capitol in January.

So far neither Juli Weiner nor Peter Keating, VF's pair of congressional time-clocks, have calculated the cost of Harry Reid's latest stunt.

Other GOP efforts just in the past few months have elicited similar, if less snarky, reactions from various media personalities. The news networks spent a few days pondering why on earth House Republicans would bother voting to repeal Obamacare, knowing the measure would fail in the Senate - or via presidential veto, if it came to that.

NBC's Meredith Viera was simply baffled. "Given the fact that the Democratic-led Senate will never go for that and the President has veto power," she asked Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., "why make that the first big thing on your plate?"

CBS expressed the same concern. Why bother with a repeal vote, wondered then-CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric. "There is no chance this repeal will succeed, it's a largely symbolic measure. So what's the point?" Couric asked, rhetorically.

But Harry Reid is fully aware that his demagogic legislation has no chance of reaching the president's desk, not due to the inevitable opposition of House Republicans, but simply because it's unconstitutional. He admitted as much, and yet he's going forward with it in an overtly political waste of Congress's time. If Viera and Couric were so concerned about the GOP's "symbolic" repeal vote - which, they charged, was purely political - where is the disdain for Harry Reid?