Next week the Democrats' leader in the United States Senate, Harry Reid, is going to try and open debate on Obamacare. The switchboard at the Senate --202-224-3121-- should be ringing non-stop as a result.
The motion Reid will offer to open debate on the bill requires 60 votes to succeed. Thus far no Republican has indicated a willingness to vote yes, so every single Democrat will have to agree to move the monstrosity forward. When they do, each and every Democrat will forever "own" whatever comes out the other end of the legislative sausage factory.
This first cloture vote should thus weigh heavily on at least four Democrats who face the voters in November, 2010.
Evan Bayh of Indiana, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas all face the voters in 51 short weeks. Their states range from purple to deep red, and their electorates oppose Obamacare.
Other Democrats asking for another term next year come from safer states --Chris Dodd in Connecticut, Kristen Gillibrand in New York and Ron Wyden in Oregon, for example-- but when waves build and roll out, even relatively safe seats get washed away.
Vice President Joe Biden has to be concerned that the seat he thought he left for his son Beau will fall instead to Republican Congressman Mike Castle, and Democrats in Illinois have to worry that their open seat will be lost as well as the voter's fury with the unnecessary and wildly expensive assault of seniors an American medicine continues to advance.
Even some die-hard supporters of socialized medicine like California's Boxer and Nevada's Reid must entertain private thoughts of the joy of having their colleagues block the bill. The hapless Arlen Specter, an almost certain loser either in the primary or the general next year, probably doesn't even know what he thinks.
The Democrats in the Senate who face voters in 2010 know they have drawn the short straw. Their colleagues who ran and won in 2006 and 2008 had the wind at their back. This class survived the George Bush win of 2004 only to now land in the middle of the blowback against President Obama and his huge lurch left. Even now aggressive groups like TalkPac.com are busy raising funds to deploy against those most vulnerable Senate Democrats who vote for cloture on Obamacare. The Democrats who had hoped to "hide" their support of Obamacare behind an eventual "no" vote as the bill passes into law have come to realize that in the era of new media, the electorate understands that the cloture vote is everything. To give a green light now is to own the bill that gets to the president's desk this year or next. There will be no shedding responsibility for the law if a yes vote on cloture is registered next week.
There are even three Democrats who are poised to just say no just because of the breadth and depth of the disaster contained in the fine print of Obamacare: Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Perhaps there are others.
The bizarre, extreme bill that emerged from the House last week puts new pressure on the Senate Demcrats. They know that no matter what comes out of the Senate, if a conference committee is convened, the wild-eyed House delegation will arrive demanding everything from prison for the non-insured to publicly funded abortions. The House ideologues want a fiery confrontation with the moderates and the conservatives. They relish the idea of a full throated battle over their hard left vision of America.
They come from safe districts. They can afford the spectacle. They won't feel the blowback.
But the senators know that the conference will produce a bill with a public option, with massive cuts to medicare, with near unified opposition from America's real doctors, not the suits at the AMA. They hear the army of walkers forming up and they know the AARP won't be able to protect them when word spreads of the premium shock and the long lines. When employers start to dump their work forces into the bare bones public option, the House lefties will smile and applaud, and the Senate Democrats will be looking for work.
It will be tough to tell Harry Reid "no" when he asks for the chance to just begin the debate. But they know that is to ask for the first step off the electoral cliff. Will they say yes and take the step?
Here's the contact number for the four most vulnerable Democrats in 2010. Let them know that a vote for cloture will put you in the field against them next fall, and that your wallet will open for their opponents immediately:
Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana
DC Phone: (202) 224-5623
Local Phone: Evansville (812) 465-6500, Fort Wayne (260) 426-3151, Hammond (219) 852-2763, Indianapolis (317) 554-0750, Jeffersonville (812) 218-2317, Southbend (574) 236-8302
Link to E-mail
Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado
DC Phone: 202) 224-5444
Denver Metro Office: (303) 455-7600 Toll Free: (866) 455-9866 Fax: (303) 455-8851
Colorado Springs Office: Phone: (719) 328-1100
Link to E-mail.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota
DC Phone: (202) 224-2551
Local Phone: Bismarck (701) 250-4618, Fargo (701) 239-5389, Minot (701) 852-0703, Grand Forks (701) 746-8972
Link to E-mail
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas
DC Phone: (202) 224-4843
Local Phone: Dumas (870) 382-1023, Fayetteville (479) 251-1224, Little Rock (501) 375-2993, Jonesboro (870) 910-6896, Texarkana (870) 774-3106
Link to E-mail