In the British Parliament, party whips distribute letters before important votes instructing members to attend. The number of underlines traditionally conveys the consequences for party members that fail to show up and vote with party leadership. The most important votes–generally the ones on which the government has staked its reputation–are underlined three times, with an implied consequence of party expulsion for disobeying members. This is called a “three line whip”.
No such system formally exists in the United States Congress, where party controls have traditionally been much less important. Recent years have seen Republican Party leadership turn instead to dirty tricks and electioneering to effectively expel and intimidate unruly members, but the general idea is that we allow more personal voting freedom than most European systems. However, some votes are so crucial and so morally one-sided that party leaders should consider making consequences more clear.
While most Congressional activity leaves room for genuine ideological or practical disagreement, the imminent vote on an override of President Bush’s S-CHIP veto is one instance in which there is a clear moral divide. Those who put their hateful right wing ideologies ahead of children do so for the cynical reason that a successful government health care program makes their opposition to universal health care look nonsensical. These people are not real Democrats, and the handful of Democrats who voted against the original bill and have not yet agreed to vote for the override should be made aware of their stance outside the acceptable realm of party positions.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of House leadership should announce that no person who opposes children’s health care belongs in the Democratic Party. They should not run for re-election with Democratic Party funds and infrastructure, and they should not speak as representatives of the Democratic Party before the public. Speaker Pelosi should employ an effective three line whip by making absolutely clear to these renegade members that continued support of the right wing fringe in this dispute will earn them expulsion from the Democratic caucus and a refusal of party endorsement in the 2008 election.
UPDATE: The override has failed (by thirteen votes) and Representatives Jim Marshall (DINO-GA) and Gene Taylor (DINO-MS) both voted against it. Remember those names.