For the past 117 years, the U.S. Senate has celebrated George Washington’s birthday with a public reading of his farewell address to the American people.
This year, that address rings particularly poignant and timeless. In it, he warned against the evils of political parties. The first president feared that powerful parties could lead people to put their partisan politics ahead of their patriotism and the pursuit of what is best for the country.
“The common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain. It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another,” Washington wrote. “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”
A couple of hours after the reading of those words last week, the Senate assembled to vote upon a $15 billion jobs creation bill that would provide tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed people. The legislation would give companies that hire unemployed Americans an exemption from paying payroll taxes on those workers through the end of this year. The plan also would provide a $1,000 tax credit to employers who keep new workers on the payroll for at least for 52 weeks.
The Republican leadership in the Senate prepared to vote against cloture and once again filibuster a bill that had the support of the Democratic President Barack Obama. This Congress has used the filibuster more than any Congress in history.
But a funny thing happened on the way to this particular filibuster. Newly elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) broke ranks and voted with the Democrats in favor of the bill to give tax credits to small businesses for new hires.
The bill then advanced to a straight up-or-down vote two days later. Eight Republican senators who had voted against cloture or were absent (which in a cloture vote is the same as a no vote) on the bill earlier last week, then voted for the bill.
In other words, eight GOP senators refused to support allowing a vote on the bill but then voted for the bill.
The hypocrites who switched their votes were: Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), George LeMieux (R-Fla.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Those who voted “yes” after being absent for the cloture vote were Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
The jobs bill passed with a 70-28 vote.
Brown showed that he is bold enough to do the right thing, rather than be a sheep who falls in line behind his party’s leadership.
For his courage, he was called “Benedict Brown” by members of the Tea Party. Conservative commentators Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck denounced him, and his Facebook page was flooded with nasty, vile remarks.
Step back and think about this for a moment. What kind of a Republican would vote AGAINST giving a business a tax cut for hiring an American worker?
To be sure, this kind of behavior has been happening on both sides. For years. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shown that she can be just as politically conniving, divisive and shrill as her predecessors.
Ole’ George was right.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.