Lincoln’s Saturday Timing Puzzles Colleagues

Posted November 21, 2009 at 9:28pm

Senate Democrats and Republicans were left shaking their heads Saturday at Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (Ark.) decision to be the last Democrat to declare her intentions on Saturday night’s major health care reform vote.Facing a tough 2010 re-election fight back home, Lincoln was one of three centrist Democrats who withheld their votes on starting the health care debate until shortly before the vote. However, by waiting until after both Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) declared, Lincoln arguably became the decisive vote that put the Democratic bill over the top. Of the three, Lincoln is the only one up for re-election next year. The Senate voted Saturday night, 60-39, to break a filibuster of the motion to proceed to the $848 billion measure, with the vote breaking down along party lines.Though Democrats were loath to publicly criticize Lincoln after she took a tough vote for them, many said privately they did not understand why she put herself in that position.A Zogby poll released last week showed the two-term Democrat narrowly besting her largely unknown GOP opponent 41 percent to 39 percent, with 18 percent undecided. Her support dropped 4 points when Zogby asked whether Arkansans would vote for her if she supported health care reform.National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who has already aggressively targeted Lincoln for defeat next year, agreed Lincoln’s decision to make herself the last Democrat to commit was curious.Cornyn warned that her role in the debate — and potential passage of a health care reform bill — would be a “problem— for her.“She’s the 60th vote. It wouldn’t have happened without her. So yeah, it’s a problem for her, don’t you think?— Cornyn said.Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attempted to put even more pressure on vulnerable Democrats such as Lincoln by declaring that vote to start debate was a vote in favor of the bill. “This bill right here costs $2.5 trillion the government doesn’t have and can’t afford,— McConnell said on the floor before the vote. “It imposes punishing taxes on almost everyone. It raises health insurance premiums on the 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance. And if that were not bad enough, it slashes Medicare by half a trillion dollars. Anyone who votes ‘aye’ tonight … is voting for all of these things.—On Saturday afternoon, Lincoln attempted to strike back at both liberal and conservative critics on the Senate floor as she declared her intention to vote with the rest of the Senate Democratic Conference to proceed to the health care measure. “This vote for or against a procedure that allows us to begin open debate on health care reform is nothing more and nothing less,— Lincoln said. “I’m not afraid of that debate. … I will not allow my decision on this vote to be dictated by pressure from my political opponents nor the liberal interest groups from outside Arkansas that threaten me with their money and their political opposition.—However, she used more forceful language than Nelson and Landrieu in warning she could not necessarily be counted on to vote for the final package.“I am also aware that there will be additional procedural votes to move this process forward that will require 60 votes prior to the conclusion of the floor debate,— Lincoln said. “I’ve already alerted the leader, and I’m promising my colleagues, that I am prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needed all 60 members of the Democratic Conference to beat back a GOP filibuster attempt, which, if successful, would have prevented the health care measure from being debated and amended on the Senate floor. He will likely need 60 votes again in order to schedule a vote on final passage.