Given the steep climb toward 60, Senate Democratic leaders have begun to make another argument to lawmakers. They are pressing colleagues to vote with the party on procedural matters related to health care legislation and against any filibuster — a 60-vote issue — even if they intend to oppose the measure in the end when simple majority rules.
Senators are usually reluctant to clear the way for a bill they might vote against since they relinquish their most powerful leverage, but the message is evidently reaching some.
“It is difficult to ask someone to facilitate the enactment of legislation with which they disagree,” Mr. Bayh said. “But to move the process forward, to improve things, to get to the point where you can support it substantively, that of course I would be willing to do.” [my emphasis]
I understand the point Senator Bayh is making – which presumably is his politician’s way of saying what he is really thinking: If he votes for the process but against the bill, he’s hedged his bets.
Or perhaps, with some wishful thinking, another case can be made: Voters can understand that a Senator or Representative would oppose a bill and yet be willing to support a process that allows an up-or-down vote on the issue. I always found that argument – when made by Republicans about Bush’s judicial nominees, or when made by Democrats about Clinton’s judicial nominees – to be persuasive if not controlling.
And the same principles used then applies to health care reform legislation now: we’ve been publicly been debating this issue for months; citizens have expressed their opinions in town halls across the nations; protests have occurred against and rallies for; the President gave a prime time address to a joint session of Congress; various Senators and Representatives have worked for months on the proposals; the need for action is virtually undisputed; all the assorted interest groups have been brought into the process; the House of Representatives is sure to pass something; all of this proves that contrary to how it sometimes seems, democracy and even our public conversation is working, in however flawed of a manner.
At this point, the only thing standing in the way – not of passage, but simply the legislative process – is the possibility that 40 Senators may refuse to allow the Senate to vote one way or the other on this urgent matter of public concern. There may be 40 Senators who refuse to let the democratic process go forward which forces their colleagues to take an official position and instead allows them to finesse and weasel their way out of taking a definite stand.
Regardless of where you stand on the bill, it seems a strong case can be made that the Senate must – at some point soon – be allowed to actually vote on legislation, rather than sit impotent in the face of a nationally debated issue.
[Image by EVAN BAYH licensed under Creative Commons.]