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BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Bet you didn’t know that conservatives love low riders.
And I’m not talking about vehicles with modified suspension. No, I’m talking about unpopular legislation that gets attached to a more popular bill. The attachment, or rider, is generally added for one of two reasons: A) The legislation it is attached to is guaranteed to pass and the rider would not pass on its own, or B) the attached legislation is to function as a “poison pill” in an effort to bring down legislation that might have passed, but is far less appealing with the barnacle bill stuck to it.
Such is the case with the National Rifle Association’s South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s Respecting States Rights and Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2009 (S.845). As BuzzFlash noted yesterday, there is speculation that this bill, which would mandate a change in every state that has a conceal and carry law (all 48 of them) to homogenize their gun laws and bring them down to the lowest common denominator, is to be attached as a rider to must-pass legislation in the near future.
It seems that gun toters will holler “states’ rights” only as long as the federal government wants to limit gun use. If Congress wants to force gun law loosening on the other hand, all hail Big Brother.
Democrats are guilty of this too, though. In a desperate attempt to get the hate crimes bill passed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced he is considering adding the legislation to the must-pass defense appropriations bill. Democrats have been trying to pass hate crimes legislation for almost a decade. Now that we have a president who won’t automatically veto everything that deals with hate crimes combined with the fact that hate crimes themselves are increasing at an alarming rate, its passage is more important that ever.
The Liberty Counsel (you know, the guys who say the hate crimes bill is part of the “radical homosexual anarchist agenda“) sent out this alert about the possibility of hate crimes legislation being attached to the defense spending bill:
Another outspoken detractor of Reid’s proposal is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). From McClatchy Newspapers, emphasis mine:
“I’ve watched the defense authorization bill move its way through Congress and occasionally, including at other times, I’ve seen amendments put on the bills which are non-germane,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “But I haven’t seen the majority leader of the Senate, whose responsibility is to move legislation through the Senate, take a totally non-relevant, all-encompassing controversial piece of legislation and put it on a bill that is as important to the nation’s security as this legislation is.”
“We’re breaking new ground here,” McCain said. “I’m deeply, deeply disappointed, and I would question anyone’s priorities, anyone’s priorities, who puts this kind of legislation ahead of the needs of the men and women who are serving our military with bravery, courage and distinction.”
Basically, this is “new ground” only because Reid is doing it, not the NRA. So why hasn’t McCain questioned the priorities of the proposed addition of Thune’s Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act? Thune’s legislation has been all glued up and ready to stick to whatever legislation is guaranteed to pass, or whatever conservatives want to go down in flames. Which means both the defense appropriations bill and the hate crimes legislation respectively.
Reid questioned McCain’s reason for his blustery objection to the inclusion of unrelated legislation, basically saying the Arizona senator is using the rider issue as a convenient way to oppose the hate crimes bill without having to stand up for hate:
Reid called McCain’s pique over adding the hate crimes legislation to the defense spending bill “a new outrage over a very old issue.”
“I recognize he has strong feelings, well… so do I… I wonder which recent morning did the senator wake up and feel so strongly,” Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Where has he been in the past?”
Reid said he supports the amendment to cap spending on F-22s, rejected McCain’s assertions that the majority leader is putting politics ahead of the military’s needs and countered that the Arizona lawmaker has never fully supported the hate crimes legislation.
Let me be clear about this: I don’t approve of Thune’s or Reid’s actions.
Legislation should be fully debated on its merits. Regardless of whether I like it or not, it should not be surreptitiously added to other bills. And whatever the intention as regarding the host legislation — be the addition an attempt to ride popular legislation into law or to sink controversial legislation by making it less palatable — it is an unfortunate tactic which undermines the democratic process.
On the other hand, there is a big difference between the conceal and carry legislation and the hate crimes bill. Conceal and carry is a “low” rider: It is contradictory legislation that the American people neither know about nor understand the ramifications of. Hate crimes prevention is a “high” rider: It’s the right thing to do and it’s long overdue.
Reid said Democrats would’ve gladly taken up the hate crimes measure separately. However, he said, “The Republicans’ relentless strategy of slowing, stopping and stalling has made it impossible… This could have been done yesterday or the day before if but for the stubbornness of the Senate Republicans.”
In the case of both the hate crimes and the conceal and carry legislation, conservatives are telling lies. Keeping either bill from debate only allows them to hide behind their untruths.
If Republicans were forced to debate Thune’s conceal and carry legislation on its merits, they may have to admit that — despite the crafty title — the legislation does nothing to respect states’ rights. In fact, it violates them entirely by bringing, for example, California’s gun law (which allows a sheriff to deny someone a gun permit based on the fact that they’re a psychotic wife-beating drunk) down to the level of Vermont’s (where one can own a gun anytime, anywhere and for any reason).
Instead, Reid should force Republicans to stand up on the Senate floor and explain why they support hate. They should be challenged when they suggest that hate crimes legislation will silence religious people, and be forced to admit that the legislation merely further defends people from being attacked by intolerant homophobes and racists.
“Let me be candid and say that I still do not understand the opposition to the bill. It does not criminalize speech. It only applies to violent acts — and these are acts where victims are targeted because of who they are — because of their race, or national origin, their disability, their gender, their religion or their sexual orientation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said on the Senate floor. “Why would anyone oppose giving the Department of Justice more resources to fight these crimes?”
Why indeed? We’ll never know until these low-riding pols are forced to speak up on the Senate floor.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
UPDATE: It seems both Reid’s hate crimes bill and Thune’s conceal and carry bill were added to the defense spending legislation, which is expected to pass easily next week.