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House Leaders Have a Fiduciary Duty to Protect the Institution

Let us start with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who took to the House floor last week to say that the Republican health care reform plan is to have people “die quickly.” It was an over-the-top, outrageous comment that has no place in civil discourse.

But, of course, it was not the first. Let’s review the bidding on House floor statements on this specific subject.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) said the House Democrats’ bill “essentially said to America’s seniors: drop dead.” Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said on the floor in July that the public insurance option in the Democrats’ plan “is gonna kill people.” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) suggested the Democrats’ plan might “put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.” Ouch, ouch and ouch. And let’s not forget a double-extra ouch for Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) outburst on the House floor during President Barack Obama’s speech to the joint session on health care reform.

The House response to Wilson, after he refused to apologize on the floor, was to vote to chastise him formally, a mild punishment that sadly did not get the support of the Republican leadership, although several of the best House Members on the GOP side of the aisle courageously voted in favor. Predictably, Grayson’s bad behavior generated outraged calls from Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his Republican colleagues for Grayson to apologize. Predictably, he refused. And sadly, predictably, the Democratic leaders closed ranks behind Grayson.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at least did not support or endorse the Grayson remark and called on all miscreants to apologize. She is right — but we deserve more from the Speaker than a response that if one apologizes, all should apologize. It is up to the Speaker to rise above the partisan fray and put her own colleague on the spot, even if it is unfair to let the others off the hook. The only way to stop this nonsense is to create some level of shame for those who perpetrate it.

The Speaker and the Minority Leader have solemn fiduciary responsibilities to protect the integrity of the House. When Members take to the floor to say that elected Representatives on the other side of the aisle are not acting in good faith with their ideas but are murderers-in-waiting, it is outrageous and wrong, and it stains the basic integrity of the House (and by extension the voters who put the elected Representatives in place). Pelosi and Boehner need to join together and put an end to this damaging foolishness and out-of-control rhetoric.

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