A Precedent Broken? GOP Compares Reading of Amendment to Caning of Charles Sumner

By Lindsey Ellerson

Dec 16, 2009 6:36pm

While Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, recalled his single payer health reform amendment without a vote, Republicans say their rights to have all 766 pages read were violated by the parliamentarian. They’re steamed.

Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a somber speech on the Senate floor, tangentially comparing the ruling today by the parliamentarian on the health reform bill to the caning of Republican Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856.

“You may have heard that the majority cites an example in 1992 where the chair made a mistake and allowed something similar to happen.  But one mistake does not a precedent make,” said McConnell.

“For example, there is precedent for a Senator being beaten with a cane here in the Senate. If mistakes were the rule, the caning of Senators would be in order. Fortunately for all of us, it is not,” he said, adding: “It’s now clear the majority is willing to do anything to jam through a 2000-page bill before the American people or any of us has had a chance to read it—including changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Read more about the caning HERE.

The Senate historian gives the caning of Sumner some significance in the march of the United States toward Civil War.

“The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of civil war,” according to the Senate page on the Sumner beating.

This is not the first time the Civil War has been invoked in the health reform debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took some heat for comparing filibuster of a health reform bill with historical opposition to ending slavery.

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