So just how would a U.S. senator's job description read?
Watch them at any given moment on television or the Internet. You will find members of the world's greatest deliberative body holding forth at a Capitol Hill press conference to introduce some new piece of legislation. You'll find them chattering about election-year politics on the cable news shows. Or you might even catch them on C-SPAN as they meander with colleagues on the Senate floor casting votes as the clerk calls the roll, or perhaps even solo as the camera captures them as they deliver a speech on some weighty issue of the day. (And, of course, as it is so often said, in private each time a senator looks into a mirror, he or she sees a potential president of the United States staring back.)
Observe them like this — particularly in our time of Internet-fast communication and chain-store-sameness that brings us all ever closer together and diminishes once-unmistakable local and regional differences that create a more connected and cohesive national community — and it would be easy to intermingle these 100 as a shifting set of partisans and national figures.
And perhaps from this vantage point, it would be easy to castigate the Democrats who sought, and received, some special perk or payoff for their state back home in exchange for a "yea" vote on the healthcare bill as some kind of corrupt, backroom dealing.
Except that this sort of Web and cable TV-driven view of the members of this most exclusive club is incomplete.
When a senator is recognized in chamber, they are not identified as "the senator of the Democratic Party," or as the "senior senator of healthcare reform legislation."
No, they're designated as what they are: the senator of whichever of the 50 states they hail from.
And while these 100 men and women are in Washington to work upon a national stage to solve national problems and to craft legislation for a federal government, the successful ones also remember that Congress is like a dance: At the end of the day, remember the ones who brung ya.
That means that if they can help meet the particular and specific needs of constituents back home even as they put together a national healthcare reform plan, then all the better.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was absolutely right when he said, "There are 100 senators here and I don't know that there's a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that isn't important to them. If they don't have something in it important to them then it doesn't speak well of them."
The Republicans denouncing the deals are just sore that they decided not to play.
"This will not stand the test of the Constitution, I hope, because the deals that have been made to get votes from specific states' senators cannot be considered equal protection under the law," declaims Sen. Kay Bailey Hutichson.
Oh, yeah? What about that combined $3.4 million that Sen. Hutchison personally secured for eight Texas projects? Or the initiative last year to provide resources to Mexican anti-narcotics efforts that Hutchison herself admits she wouldn't support unless she received $100 million more in federal funding for domestic law enforcement along the border. Did we mention Hutchison hails from the great state of Texas? Or that Texas also happens sit along aforementioned border?
When she squeals about "equal protection under the law," I think she doth protest too much.
If Chris Dodd can steer a new medical center back to Connecticut, and Tom Harkin can win more Medicare funds for Iowa because they think these things will help the folks back home, I say, "More power to them." Perhaps it's just a case of doing well for the voters at home while doing good for the nation as a whole.
Heck, if anything, maybe we should be faulting these guys for not asking for more.
You see, Sen. Bernie Sanders got more than some random plum for signing onto health reform. Apparently, he had something more strategic in mind. What Sanders asked for, and received, was $10 billion to increase the number of community health care centers nationwide, including at least two more for his state of Vermont.
These centers provide care regardless of an individual's ability to pay, and with this expansion, Sanders single-handedly is now providing universal healthcare for his constituents.
Now, that really is taking care of the folks who brung ya.Powered by Sidelines