Sunday, November 22, 2009

“Rounding Third and Heading for Home”

This is how Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of Ted Kennedy’s Health Committee where it all began on the Senate side, described last night’s historic Senate vote, 60-39, to break the Republican filibuster and allow debate on Harry Reid’s merged healthcare bill to proceed. Yes, there’s plenty that can happen between third and home but by any measure this was a momentous, historic vote.

The vote concluded with no small drama, as 92-yo Sen. Robert Byrd entered the chamber in a wheelchair pushed by an aide and pointed to the sky indicating his AYE vote, the usually taciturn Harry Reid planted a kiss on Mary Landrieu’s hand, and together with Sen. Schumer, hugged Blanche Lincoln, who blushed. The Senators voted from their desks, giving the proceeding a somber and dignified appearance.

Significantly, the one notable absence was Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, who elected to attend the 30th anniversary of his Cleveland mayoral election instead. While he remains publicly opposed to the bill, Voinovich is no sure vote for the Republican caucus. This is Voinovich’s last term in the Senate, having announced his retirement, which gives him a great deal of independence. Recently, Voinovich lashed out in disgust at the current Republican Party:
“We got too many Jim DeMints (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburns (R-Ok.). It's the Southerners. They get on TV and go "errrr, errrrr." People hear them and say, ‘These people, they're Southerners. The party's being taken over by Southerners. What the hell they got to do with Ohio?’”
Could this be the first chink in the armor of Republican Senate discipline?

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