Democratic leader notes GOP Whip Cantor backed use of 'deem and pass' measure in past


House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) paraphrased an old definition of the Yiddish term "chutzpah" to offer a stinging rebuke to Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Wednesday.

In characterizing Republican objections to the Democrats' possible use of what is called a "deem and pass" procedure to enact health care reform, Hoyer noted that "unfortunately, Republicans are a little bit like the boy who killed his two parents and then wants sympathy because they're an orphan."

"This is a procedure," Hoyer explained., "that was used almost a hundred times under Newt Gingrich, and over a hundred times by Speaker Hastert, which my friend Mr. Cantor supported most of the time, if not all the time. So this is not an unusual procedure. ... It's simply like a conference report."

The Jewish Law Commentary website, which provides the "classic" definition of chutzpah as "a person who kills his parents and pleads for the court's mercy on the ground of being an orphan," notes that the term has a long legal history, going back to 1973. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) was once sued unsuccessfully on the grounds that the word was "defamatory," and Justice Antonin Scalia even drew on it in a recent Supreme Court decision.

The same phrase was used two years ago by journalist Sidney Blumenthal to describe the campaign for Scooter Libby to receive a presidential pardon for his role in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame. "Most of those who throw themselves on the mercy of the court express sorrow at what they have done," Blumenthal wrote. "Like the child who has killed his parents and demands mercy for being an orphan, Libby tried to murder the truth and then got dozens of people to plead for leniency based on his good character."

Cantor, who is Jewish and presumably recognized the reference, did not react to Hoyer's words. "This is a process that you can avoid a direct up or down vote on a bill," was his only response. "I don't think you can fool the public. I mean, this is an attempt to hide the vote. ... The rules of the House allow for this type of 'deeming' provision. ... but, again, why do that? This is so big, we should have an up or down vote."

This video is from ABC's Good Morning America, broadcast March 17, 2010.

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