Healthcare Reform Rhetoric Goes Over the Edge

Just when you thought that the Congressional debate over healthcare reform couldn’t get uglier than talk of “death panels”, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) went that extra step by inferring that a Democratic senator needed to die or become incapacitated so the legislation would fail.  Just hours before a 1 a.m. procedural vote requiring a 60-vote majority, Coburn – who is a practicing physician – went to the Senate floor and proposed a prayer.  He said, “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight.  That’s what they ought to pray,” Coburn said.

It was clear to shocked Senators that Coburn was referring to Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who is 92, in frail health and wheelchair-bound.  Bringing Senator Byrd to the Senate for a middle-of-the-night vote in a city that had been walloped by an 18-inch snowfall the day before would be no easy task.  So incensed was Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate majority whip, that he responded “When it reaches a point where we’re praying, asking people to pray, that senators wouldn’t be able to answer the roll call, I think it has crossed the line.”

The Democrats were no innocents either when it came to over-the-top oratory.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) earlier gave a speech in which he referenced the French Revolution, Kristallnacht and Southern lynch mobs.  In Whitehouse’s words, “Too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, obstruction and fear.  History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead.  Tumbrils have rolled through taunting crowds.  Broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets.  Strange fruit has hung from Southern trees.”

Coburn’s wish was thwarted.  Shortly before 1 a.m., Senator Byrd was wheeled into the Senate, eager to vote.  As his name was called, the West Virginia senator held up his right index finger as he shouted “aye”, then pumped his left fist in defiance.

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