Why does Fox treat Christmas like this? Fox took their “War on Christmas” to Capitol Hill this week, continuing to politicize Christmas by making the bogus claim that “Democrats [are] waging their own War on Christmas” by holding votes in the final weeks of December. What Fox isn't telling you is that not only is this schedule fairly common, but it's Republicans who should take most, if not all, of the blame for such holiday scheduling concerns.
This latest brouhaha was sparked by an exchange this week of some strong words between Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). On Kyl said Dec. 14 on the Senate floor, as quoted in the New York Times, “It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without...disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians.” On December 15, DeMint said the Democrats' push on START and the omnibus bill was “sacrilegious,” as Politico reported. Reid shot back later that day, saying that he didn't need any “sanctimonious lectures,” because "[a]s a Christian, no one has to remind me of the importance of Christmas," as The Washington Post reported.
Fox picked up on this story right away, beginning with Fox & Friends on December 16. Co-host Steve Doocy teased a story about the pending omnibus and START bills in the Senate by saying, “Meanwhile, are Democrats waging their own War on Christmas to make sure Santa delivers everything on their wish list?” Co-host Gretchen Carlson decided yes, they are, when teasing the story again later in the show, saying: “Democrats waking up in Washington and waging their own War on Christmas, threatening Republicans to pass their Christmas wish list or else.”
Other Fox hosts took up the faux battle cry later in the day. On America Live, host Megyn Kelly covered the DeMint and Kyl versus Reid Christmas comments, leading her story by saying:
Is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a Grinch? Is he trying to Scrooge his colleagues with plans to keep the Senate in session until Christmas Eve and then call everyone back before New Year's? Some Republicans seem to think so. [Fox News' America Live, 12/16/10]
Later, during On the Record, Fox News Contributor Karl Rove claimed that trying to pass a group of spending bills as an omnibus is unusual -- as Media Matters for America has already documented, it's not -- and said:
They're trying to wad this thing up, and on the eve of Christmas, jam it through by threatening people that if they don't vote for it, they may be stuck here for Christmas. I mean, you know, Harry Reid strikes me as sometimes he has a weird sense of humor, but I never really thought of him as the Grinch. But this is the guy who tried to steal Christmas, at least for his colleagues in the Senate this year. [Fox News' On the Record, 12/16/10]
Sound familiar? Perhaps you remember the story about how that Scrooge Reid made Congress stay in session so late last year that the Senate had to vote on the health care bill on Christmas Eve.
Hmm. How does Congress keep getting into this situation? Is it in fact Reid and Democrats who are to blame?
Before taking on this year's “Reid is the Grinch” claim, let's review what happened last year. The final vote on the health care bill did indeed take place on the morning of Christmas Eve. Why on Earth did they wait so long?
The answer gets a little wonky. Rules governing how debate takes place in the Senate require that after cloture has been invoked -- that is, after at least 60 senators have voted to end debate on a particular bill and move to a final vote -- there will be no more than an additional 30 hours of debate on the pending bill, as the Senate's website explains. Of course, the Senate can agree not to use all 30 hours -- for example, all senators can sign on to a unanimous consent agreement and decide to move immediately to a vote.
Last year, there were multiple portions of the health care bill that needed voting on -- the underlying bill, as well as a “managers amendment” and substitute amendment of changes the Senate added. For each of these portions, Senate Republicans insisted on allowing the full 30 hours of debate to elapse, even though it was clear the Democrats had the 60 votes needed to pass the amendments and underlying bill from the very first vote, which took place at 1 a.m. on December 21. Here's an excerpt from a December 21 article in Roll Call (subscription required):
Senators voted 60-40 to invoke cloture or beat back a GOP filibuster of the manager's amendment to the bill. The move clears the way for passage of the massive reform measure by Christmas.
Reid and the Democrats, who only closed ranks Saturday when Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) accepted compromise language on abortion and Medicaid, now proceed to a 7 a.m. Tuesday vote to end debate on the substitute amendment to the $871 billion health care package. The cloture vote on the manager's amendment began at 1 a.m. Monday, with all 40 Republicans voting to continue the debate.
Reid's goal of clearing the bill before Christmas and Republican hopes of derailing passage have combined to force three cloture votes, including late-night and early-morning roll calls, because of Senate rules mandating 30 hours of sequential debate time prior to each cloture vote. At present, the third cloture vote, on the underlying bill, will likely occur Wednesday afternoon, with the vote on final passage set for Christmas Eve night.
The vote to end debate on the manager's amendment occurred in the middle of the night on the East Coast as the full Senate was on the floor and Senators were seated at their desks, as requested by Reid. The Senate was in session Sunday for more than 10 hours, adjourning at 11:30 p.m. and reconvening at 12:01 a.m. Monday. [Roll Call, 12/21/09]
This was not the only way the Republicans tried to throw up roadblocks to stop the inevitable:
Sunday's debate featured several Republican attempts to set aside the manager's amendment and proceed to a debate on alternative GOP proposals. But the dilatory maneuvers, which were unanimous-consent requests, never had a realistic chance of succeeding and were quickly squashed by Democratic objections. [Roll Call, 12/21/09]
There are several months' worth of various GOP delay tactics I could rehash, but let's move on to this year. Sure, the 111th Congress is trying to pass a lot of legislation in its final days. But who's actually been dragging this process out? Doocy cleared it up for us on Fox & Friends yesterday:
DOOCY: The problem is this, Gretch, and that is that the way they line it up is, okay, first we're gonna do the START treaty and then we'll take up spending. Hey, what's your hurry? The government is going to shut down on December the 18th. That is absolutely the drop dead date. Now keep in mind that right now, on Capitol Hill, there are two bills. The House has passed a continuing resolution. They're done with it. They've passed theirs. But the Senate goes no, we have this other spending bill. This is the one with, you know, it's like $1.2 trillion and it's got all those earmarks in it. So there's a big battle. So Jim DeMint and others are saying they got to read the bill verbatim by the clerk, could take 30 or 40 hours, not just for the spending bill but also the START treaty and the problem with that it's in legislative language and partially in Russian. Which house clerk knows Russian, Brian?
KILMEADE: Beats me. Let's listen to both sides weigh in. [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 12/16/10]
Got that? DeMint was calling for the bill to be read out loud, not a procedure usually done with each and every bill brought to the floor, which could take 30 or 40 hours. But the Democrats are the ones waging the War on Christmas by threatening to keep the Senate in session late. (As a side note, while there are a few words of Russian in the START bill, there is no Russian in the bill that doesn't have an English translation next to it, as far as we can tell.)
As of last night, Reid is no longer calling for a vote on the omnibus bill, since it appears he would not have been able to muster the 60 votes one needs to do anything in the Senate these days. But don't expect that to stop Fox from crying Grinch. I'm starting to think there is a War on Christmas -- the one Fox is waging by shamelessly using Christmas for its own political ends.