TENTH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
THE AGONY, THE ECSTASY
AND HEALTH CARE REFORM
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D-ARK)
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D-LA)
How pressure came to rest
on two female senators
By CHUCK McFADDEN
A majority is always better than the best repartee.
Do you remember The Agony and the Ecstasy, a popular novel of a few decades ago? Well, agony and ecstasy are back. Real-life agony and ecstasy.
The agony is being visited upon two Democratic senators--Blanche Lincoln, from Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Both are up for re-election in 2010. They are being pressured by the White House and their Democratic colleagues in the Senate to vote for health care reform. The pressure is fierce. But voting for health care reform could very well end their political careers, because their constituents may not like it. With an eye on her restive constituents, Lincoln, (D-Terrified) says she has problems with the Senates version of health care reform, and so does Landrieu.
"I'm not thinking about my reelection," Lincoln insisted to her colleagues. Of course not. She merely wants some changes in the bill, such as removal of the public option and tax breaks for small business, she said. Matter of improving the bill, not politics.
As Washington reporters have told us endlessly, it will take at least 60 votes for a health care bill to make it out of the Senate, because the Republicans so far are in lock-step opposition. So if there are only 58 Democratic senators who will vote for the bill, because of defections from Lincoln and Landrieu, theres a problem. The Democrats majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, would have to pry loose two Republican votes.
The two possibilities are the two Republican senators from Maine - Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. If they could be convinced to vote yes, Reid would get his 60 votes. Take that, Lincoln and Landrieu.
Reid is putting on all the pressure he can. Reid himself is under terrific pressure to get something passed because he needs a political achievement. He faces his own tough re-election campaign in 2010. The only thing that gives him any hope at all of sticking around for another six years is the inability of Nevada Republicans so far to come up with a competitive candidate.
Theres nothing particularly new about this. Legislators have been counting votes in the U.S. Senate for more than 230 years. Politicians for millennia have been telling constituents that they will go to Washington, or Albany, or Athens and represent their wishes. But all the while they are mouthing that promise, candidates know very well that its more complicated than that and their constituents mostly dont know up from down.
So if you are Lincoln or Landrieu, what do you do?
Heres where the ecstasy comes in. Both Lincoln and Landrieu can use their newfound leverage to pry some things out of Reid and/or the White House. New bridges in Louisiana, anyone? A new VA hospital in Arkansas?
There is also the possibility--everyone will deny it--that Lincoln or Landrieu, or both, could be promised nice jobs in the Obama Administration if they vote for health care reform and lose their re-election try as a consequence of that. How about a nice ambassadorship to someplace quiet with really good restaurants and nice weather? Maybe an assistant secretary of something, or maybe even a full-fledged cabinet job, in case someone drops out and theres an appropriate vacancy.
So while the two senators are wrestling with their dilemma, they also find themselves sort of in the catbird seat, positioned to demand all kinds of things in return for that dangerous vote.
There are reports that Landrieu has already been offered $100 million in federal aid for her state. Wiseacres on Capitol Hill are calling it the Louisiana Purchase.
It is also interesting to reflect on the fact that four of the 17 women in the Senate hold enormous power at the moment. Snowe or Collins could desert their fellow Republicans and ensure passage of health care reform. Lincoln or Landrieu could decide to vote yes. Or it could be Collins and Lincoln, or Snowe and Landrieu. Or some other combination among those four women that would give Reid what he needs.
There will be much, much more of this kind of thing. After all, when you cant stand to lose a single Democratic vote, any Democratic senator, or even any Republican senator so inclined can manage to obtain additional federal goodies for his or her state. It will happen.
And guess who foots the bill. Taxpayers are in for their own version of The Agony and the Ecstasy. Maybe not so much the ecstasy.
©2009 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted Dec. 7, 2009.
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