Ensign Shows There's No Blushing in Politics

The word for it is "inspiring."

It's so heartwarming to see a public servant willing to go the extra mile, willing to take on the sort of mission that would cause a lesser person to hesitate.

So raise a toast to John Ensign, United States senator from Nevada and upholder of rules.

The great thing about the nearly endless health-care debate in the Senate Finance Committee is that you don't have to watch all of it; any hour you choose to tune in will give you the flavor of the thing: The Democrats have enough of a majority to do pretty much whatever they want, as long as whatever they want doesn't involve actually giving the insurance companies any real competition. (See "Public option, defeat of.")

And the Republicans? The Republicans are in the minority, which means they're doing pretty much whatever they can to gum up the works.

So the Republicans propose an amendment, and the committee debates the amendment until Chairman Baucus gets bored, at which point he calls for a vote, at which point the Republican amendment is defeated, at which point the Republicans propose another amendment.

And another amendment.

And another amendment.

Once in a great while, the Democrats decide that some Republican suggestion actually improves the bill, and then the amendment passes, at which point the Republicans go back to trying to gum up the works with still another amendment.

And another amendment.

And another amendment.

Nothing out of the ordinary there. What takes it out of the ordinary is the role of John Ensign -- upholder of rules and champion of openness.

What Sen. Ensign is trying to accomplish during our latest tune-in is to keep the government away from health-insurance plans, and to keep illegal immigrants away from health care.

"Washington isn't trusting the people" to make their own decisions, Mr. Ensign is arguing -- but it's the people, he says, who really don't trust Washington! And they're right not to trust Washington, he says -- so let them make their own decisions about health care! (With the gentle, public-spirited assistance of the insurance companies, naturally). It's all about "transparency!"

And, Mr. Ensign worries, what about all those illegal aliens and other miscreants? What if they resort to identity theft to get health benefits they don't deserve? We need to make the requirements air-tight! (You wouldn't want anybody getting healthy who isn't legally entitled to be healthy, would you?)

Well argued, senator.

Doomed to failure, of course -- the Dems have the votes, and they're more concerned about million-dollar frauds by health-care providers than the relatively penny-ante stuff by health-care recipients. And anyway, the Democrats actually do trust Washington to do the right thing every now and again -- especially when nobody else seems capable of doing it.

But here's the inspiring part: the sight of John Ensign sitting behind a microphone and talking about trust, and about how people need to follow the rules.

He can do all this while keeping a perfectly straight face! And if you didn't know any better, you might assume that this Sen. John Ensign doesn't have the slightest relationship to the Sen. John Ensign who's recently been embroiled in a major sex-and-money scandal involving a former campaign staffer, the staffer's husband (also a former staffer), a job for the mistress's son, plus nearly a hundred-thousand dollars of secret payments from the senator's parents to the mistress's family.

And those are just the details that have leaked to the public. Apparently the senator's position on transparency, let alone on following the rules, is somewhat less than firm.

The word for it is "hypocrisy."

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.