22 December 2009

Praying for Byrd. Or Not.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., raised eyebrows at Political Wire and elsewhere after contributing this comment to the weekend debate over that chamber's health care legislation.

"What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," Coburn was quoted as saying. "That's what they ought to pray."

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post interpreted his votive thusly: "They needed one Democratic senator to die -- or at least become incapacitated... It was difficult to escape the conclusion that Coburn was referring to the 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) who has been in and out of hospitals and lay at home ailing..."

Milbank explained that "It would not be easy for Byrd to get out of bed in the wee hours with deep snow on the ground and ice on the roads -- but without his vote, Democrats wouldn't have the 60 they needed."

But, as The Associated Press and others reported, supporters "won a crucial test vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, putting them on track for passage before Christmas of the historic legislation to remake the United States' medical system and cover 30 million uninsured."

Milbank ended his column by describing the crucial scene that provided that outcome:

Coburn was wearing blue jeans, an argyle sweater and a tweed jacket with elbow patches when he walked back into the chamber a few minutes before 1 a.m. He watched without expression when Byrd was wheeled in, dabbing his eyes and nose with tissues, his complexion pale. When his name was called, Byrd shot his right index finger into the air as he shouted "aye," then pumped his left fist in defiance.

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