Senators swallow hard over Dayton's medicine
Sen. Mark Dayton has many of his colleagues smiling on the outside but fuming on the inside.
The Minnesota Democrat successfully has put the limelight on the two faces of his peers with an ingenious amendment to the Medicare prescription drug bill the U.S. Senate so proudly passed a few weeks ago.
The Senate bill -- and a similar plan passed by the House of Representatives -- is filled with loopholes, exceptions and co-pays for seniors. The bill is a far cry from the serious help that politicians of both parties have been promising to senior citizens for years.
Holding his nose, Dayton voted for the imperfect prescription medicine bill.
But he also came up with a creative approach to show his contempt. He dropped an amendment he calls "a taste of our own medicine" on the Senate floor. The amendment requires senators to receive prescription drug benefits no greater than those being proposed for senior citizens. It so happens the benefits proposed for seniors are drastically inferior to those currently enjoyed by our illustrious senators.
"I've never had so many dirty looks in my life," Dayton said of his colleagues' reaction to his amendment. "I didn't sense great enthusiasm for anything but to strangle me or have me removed from the building."
Short of strangling its creator, what was a pol to do with the "taste of our own medicine" amendment?
To vote for it meant the senators actually would be taking benefits from their own pockets. To vote against the amendment was a confession that the pols wouldn't want to live with the legislation they pass for others.
But our heroes didn't get to the Senate without learning how to wiggle out of tight spots. On June 24, the "taste of our own medicine amendment" passed in the Senate by a stunning 93-3 vote.
Don't, however, jump to the conclusion that Dayton has turned the U.S. Senate into a egalitarian culture. Despite their votes, many senators have no intention of being tied to the same pathetic prescription drug plan they devised for seniors.
Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper that covers the ins and outs of Washington politics, has reported that Republicans supported the Dayton amendment only because they were promised by caucus leaders that it would be killed even before the conference committee of House and Senate members dealt with it.
"Most members saw this [the amendment] as demagoguery," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was quoted as saying in Roll Call. "We weren't going to condone it publicly by taking it seriously. So we all voted for it."
Neat twist. You're a demagogue if you want senators and citizens to receive like treatment.
Republicans aren't the only ones snarling at Dayton. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., was one of the three "no" votes on the Dayton amendment.
"I don't do message amendments," Breaux was quoted as saying in Roll Call. "That's all it was. The whole focus should be on improving the Medicare drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries, not lowering it for members of Congress."
Dayton has been in Washington for 2 1/2 years now. But he is still sometimes caught by surprise by his colleagues' use of words.
When he first got to Washington, he approached Sen. Trent Lott, who was the power of the Senate at the time. Dayton told Lott that he wanted to offer a bill that would put the prescription drug debate on the Senate floor. Lott said that Dayton's request was "precatory."
Dayton and his staff had to scramble for dictionaries before knowing that they should be upset by Lott's remark. (Precatory means an earnest request, though the Dayton staff decided Lott meant "wishful thinking." )
But Dayton is learning to fight through obfuscating vocabulary and slick politics.
"When you vote for something on the floor, and you know it's not going to become law, and you don't want it to become law, that's blatant duplicity," Dayton said.
At every opportunity, he said, he is going to talk about the "taste of our own medicine" amendment so that it quietly can't be buried under a pile of conference committee papers.
The precatory demagogue from Minnesota really believes that what's good enough for seniors ought to be good enough for senators.