Opinion writer

In July, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this on the floor of the Senate in announcing his opposition to a dog’s breakfast of a health-care bill that bypassed regular order:

Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires. …

We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t. …

Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act. If this process ends in failure, which seem likely, then let’s return to regular order.

Today he largely eviscerated his own message and plea for Senate comity when he announced that he’d support a partisan tax bill that is every bit as contemptuous of regular order as was the health-care bill. He said in a statement: “I believe this legislation, though far from perfect, would enhance American competitiveness, boost the economy, and provide long overdue tax relief for middle-class families.” Of course, he could have demanded a better, bipartisan bill produced through regular order — and kept his reputation as a man above partisan politics intact.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the floor declared:

From the very beginning, the Republican tax bill has made a mockery, a mockery, of the legislative process.

Republican leaders disappeared behind closed doors and negotiated a framework for a tax bill, without a shred of Democratic input. Then Republican leaders wrote a bill, behind closed doors, without a shred of Democratic input. Republicans brought that bill through a markup in the Finance Committee, where it underwent the scrutiny of ONE – I repeat, ONE – expert witness. That’s it. Finance Committee Democrats offered sixty amendments to the bill but Republicans rejected every single one. Committee Republicans made it crystal clear they were not interested in bipartisanship.

Now that bill is before us on the floor. Even further, significant changes likely will be made by the Majority Leader today, he will get huge changes in a bill today and try to vote on it tonight… and this is tax, one of the most complicated issues before us. These changes and the way the Majority Leader is handling this make it impossible for any independent analyst to get a good look at the bill and how it would impact our country.

From the one-sidedness with which it was drafted to the reckless haste with which it was considered – the Republican tax bill has failed to go through anything, anything, resembling the normal legislative process.

Before the night is out, I hope all of my Republican friends ask themselves if this is the way they want history to remember how the first major tax bill was passed in over 30 years. I hope they ask themselves if this process has lived up to the fine traditions of this body, as they were eloquently described by my friends the Senators from Arizona – both senior and junior.

At least with McCain, it was not to be. He remains an American hero, but even heroes make terrible errors and undermine their own legacy. “The American people are clamoring for us to work together. They believe our politics is broken,” said Schumer. “They think our politics is starved of common sense and compromise, and it is. The way this tax bill is being rammed through is exactly why the American people think our politics is so broken.” McCain, to our grave disappointment, went with the crowd on this one, making our politics that much worse.