Regal Republicans Senators who willingly accept government pay, government staff and government-organized and funded health care benefits are so sure that Americans would not want to enjoy the perks they have come to expect are sponsoring an amendment that would require members of Congress to sign up for whatever public option that is developed under health care reform legislation.
The bill, sponsored by two of GOP caucus’ more “let-them-eat-cakey” members, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn and Louisiana David Vitter, is rooted in schoolyard strategy and the fantasy that a public option would suck so horribly that no senator or congressman would want to be a part of it.
“The idea, broad-brush, is that whatever government option is in the bill, every senator and every representative should be enrolled in it,” chirped Vitter. “No other possibilities, no other choices.”
Coburn gleefully declared, “It’s called leadership. If it’s good enough for everybody else, we ought to be leading by example.”
It fell to a more serious senator, Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, to explain that: “What they want to do is to try to have us say ‘no’ and then say, ‘Why, isn’t it good enough for you?’ The fact is they oppose the public option and they want to ridicule and diminish it.”
But Coburn and Vitter, who are rarely accused of being the brightest bulbs on the tree, outsmarted themselves again.
A key Democratic senator, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, contacted the two Republicans and said he would be delighted to cosponsor their bill and live by its requirements.
Another senator with expertise in health-care issues, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, said he was inclined to do the same.
Coburn and Vitter weren’t counting on that kind of support.
“I’ve called their offices four times (trying to sign on as a supporter of the amendment),” Brown said Thursday. “I’m proud of the public option, I think it would be great and we ought to join it and show the country how good it is. I think my interest may be more genuine than theirs, but I’d like to work with them if they’ll let me. If they just want to score partisan points, I still want to work with them.”
Usually senators go out of their way to attract co-sponsors for their amendments, especially co-sponsors from the other party who bring with them the always desirable “bipartisan” label.
But a bemused Brown noted late Thursday, “They’ve not said yes to allow me to be a co-sponsor.”
On Friday, Brown went to the floor of the Senate and asked for unanimous consent to have his name added to the Coburn-Vitter amendment as a co-sponsor.
The two Republicans, suitably shamed, accepted Brown, who by any measure won the day — and scored significant points in the battle to define the public option as a public good.
If they’re smart, the rest of the Democratic caucus will follow Brown’s lead and sign on for the public option.
That sort of buy-in would help all Americans by guaranteeing that any public option will be robust, well-operated and closely scrutinized by policymakers — which is, of course, exactly as it should be.