The following report was collectively compiled and written by the Up For Poker staff. This is the third of a series of such reports-- Ed.
Revealed in Congress' recent headshot to the future of online gaming is the unfortunate lack of understanding many online poker players have of the American system of government. While there are certainly many learned and well-tuned players in the online ranks, there exists a large segment of the online poker playing population that was simply oblivious to the possibility that their online livelihood could be destroyed.
This population is largely inhabited by the young online players who didn't bother to remember their civics lessons or suffered from an all-too common sense of entitlement that led them to believe they were invincible. Those who had staked their futures on the ability to indefinitely use their online poker skills are now left wondering whether they will be forced to go back to school or find a job waiting tables.
It was somewhat sad to see the 2+2 Forum's legislative updates post. While there were some very smart people updating all of us on what was happening, a majority of the posts were young folks who literally wrote, "Somebody please tell me what's going on!"
The above paragraphs are not an indictment of all online poker players. Further, it is not to suggest that we here at Up For Poker are legislative scholars or know more than any of our readers. It is simply a commentary on how we got to where we are now. For far too long, we have talked about how online poker players make up a large-enough group to have real influence. Unfortunately, a large section of that group willfully ignored how the end of their livelihood could make for fantastic political ammunition. Chief among the gun-toters in Washington was Senator Bill Frist.
Let's make no mistake about Senator Frist. He is, by definition, a legislator, a lawmaker, duly elected and within his rights. However, he is not a statesman. He is a political animal, bent on power and willing to use whatever legislative tools necessary to secure the power he believes he deserves.
While we would still caution you not to take your eye off the ball, we also believe knowing one's enemy is never a burden. So, let's take a walk through the House of Hypocrisy and see what we can see. It's not a matter of politics or Republican versus Democrat. It's a peek inside the nature of the beast.
Anyone who has tried to navigate the corridors of the American legislative system in recent days in an attempt to figure out how Senator Frist was able to sneak one past the goalie has probably figured out that, despite being slimy and disingenuous, the effort was completely within the rules of the Senate. Unlike the House, where non-germane matters are verboten in legislative debate, the Senate can pretty much do whatever it wants.
In the House, in an effort to keep matters expeditious and orderly, Representatives are forced to adhere to germaneness standards. The Senate is a different breed of donkey. Like allowing for filibusters, the Senate also allows for un-germane topics and amendments to be inserted into legislation, provided that legislation is not an appropriation or budget bill or an issue being decided under cloture (the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster). It's just the way they roll.
The importance of germaneness in the Senate is viewed by some to be critical to democracy. That is, in a climate so politically charged as the U.S. Congress, it's very simple for powerful committee chairmen to refuse to allow an issue into Senate floor debate. Hence, some important bills (pick your favorite cause) may never have a chance of passage if some committee chairman doesn't like the way your hair smells. Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately) you have a means to be heard. Your Senator can add your measure to some other bill, so it can at least have some chance at a debate on the floor. While that sounds good, it also acts as a political tool by which Senators with the last name Frist can stick it in you.
In the past, Senator Frist--again, within the rules--has maintained a varying view on germaneness. In September of 1997, Democrats made an effort to establish something called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Senator Tom Harkin, bent on getting the Center, tried to attach it as an amendment to an FDA bill. Senator Frist objected on the grounds that the subject was not germane. In 2004, Frist and his fellow Senators were debating a jobs bill. Democratic Senators were looking for a long list of amendments to be added to the measure. Frist, at the time, complained of the length of time being spent on the bill and said, "Unfortunately a number of those amendments are controversial and not germane to this legislation."
Frist, while the current enemy of poker players everywhere, is not alone. In fact, many Senators are guilty of attaching non-germane riders to must-pass legislation. In recent years, much has been made about the Senate's inability to get anything done because of partisan wrangling surrounding non-germane amendments. Senator John McCain, the Senator both parties love to hate, once said, "Why don't we just go home... rather than go through this charade of telling Americans that we are legislating."
We in the journalism community, especially those of us who have spent a significant amount of time in political circles, are painfully aware of the tools used by legislators. In the coming election season, count how many times you hear, "Congressman X voted against the Bill to Save Baby Seals," or "Congressman Y refused to vote for a bill that would've given arms to the armless and given Stevie Wonder new eyes." Nearly all of what you see there will be the result of political wrangling that is perpetuated by riders.
Furthermore, like the case of the gambling bill, Senators can use riders to pimp their pet projects. Most everyone is aware that Frist likely didn't give a damn about Internet gambling until he realized he could score political favors with Rep. Jim Leach. Then it became an all-important conservative issue on which he could hang his hat. Of course, after that, he had his press release written before the vote was even official.
To further understand how Frist works in this arena, we should also remember the 2004 election year. During debate on continuing the ban on Internet taxes, Minority Leader Tom Daschle tried to tack on a rider involving incentives for ethanol production. Republicans were beside themselves and considered Daschle's election-year gambit to be beyond the pale. At the time, many people believed Frist had brought the problem on himself. Earlier that year, Frist broke an unwritten rule in the Senate and actively campaigned and raised money for Daschle's opponent, John Thune.
While the previous paragraph might sound like a digression, it's more just a peek at how important action in Congress can be derailed by partisanship. It's also a look at how important legislation can be passed or not passed based on the political whim of Congress. That same year in the Senate, Republicans were working to pass a corporate tax bill. An important bill for Republicans, it was attacked by Democrats. Senator Tom Harkin tacked on a minimum wage hike. Republicans attempted to kick such amendments out based on their lack of germaneness. In short, it's all about timing. We learned that the hard way this year.
Given the right time and attention, Senators might have been able to stop Frist's end-around. In the end, the end-around was the perfect play from a seasoned political player. We got beat, not because we aren't right, but because we failed to keep on top of Frist's political aspirations and his win-at-all-costs mentality. Now, to our own chagrin, we are forced to Monday morning quarterback.
We can all long for a day when the legislative process is one that we can respect. We can wish for a day when important measures are discussed in the sunshine and are passed on their own merit. However, so long as politics and elections rule the laws that govern our lives, we have to learn how to play the game better than our opponents. It's not ideal, but it is reality.
The simple fact is, even for the political apathist, there is a time when your government can actually affect your life. Even if you don't care about abortion, taxes, war, or human rights, your life can be dramatically altered by what happens in Washington.
Perhaps it is a lesson to us all to start paying attention before the political aspirants in this country screw up something really important.