The Senate Is Really, Really Cranky

In covering the health-care-reform debate, I have watched a lot of . Usually, it’s pretty mundane stuff, senators repeating their various talking points and requesting a few extra moments to finish their remarks without any objection. Every now and then a senator would shake things up, like when Franken decided to deny Lieberman his extra time. But those moments have been few and far between, overwhelmed by posterboard-size graphs and pre-prepared remarks.

But this afternoon it has been an altogether different atmosphere: the senators are really, really cranky. And they are really, really ready to finish this debate. The microphone, at one point, picked up one senator (presumably Sam Brownback or Pat Roberts?) inviting a colleague to come out to Kansas this winter. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma requested three minutes to lament missing his 41st wedding anniversary, which is today (we later learned that it is also Roland Burris of Illinois' wedding anniversary, too. Mazel Tov to both Senators). Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, currently presiding over the Senate, had to ask for order at least five times in the past hour, which is more than I’ve seen in any other day.

Senators are picking petty fights with one another. Sen. Tom Harkin asked that the vote be moved to 6 p.m. this evening, complaining that his colleagues may miss their Christmas celebrations. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana objected and Sen. James Risch of Idaho gave a counter-suggestion that the vote be moved to mid-January. “I think we have a lot of objections to that,” Akaka said, seeming pretty weary with the scene and tapping his gavel. It feels an awful lot like that last day of school before winter break, when no one can sit still and everyone wants to go home.

To which I have to say this: senators, you have only yourselves to blame. You have talked and talked and talked and, as Politico reported today, hardly voted. You have been in session for 25 straight days, but what you've done has barely qualified as debate. Instead, it's been a recitation of talking points. Coburn admitted today he has spoken on the debt limit seven times during this debate; if you get it right the first time, that is probably six speeches too many. Senators, you talked yourself into this Christmas Eve vote; if you did not want to be here, you probably should have decided against giving that 10th speech on Medicare Advantage. So it’s time to stop squirming, sit still and finish this debate, until the teacher says that class is dismissed.

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