The Senate’s Biggest Sellout

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid almost has the votes for cloture on a health care bill that includes a public option, which, as Jane Hamsher notes, means that there a few members of the Democratic caucus who will not pledge to vote for cloture and are threatening to participate in a Republican filibuster of the bill.

Extra emphasis has been placed on keeping the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who was the lone Republican vote on the Finance Committee in favor of a bill but adamantly opposes a public option. The thinking here has been that her vote for the bill would make it safer for conservative Democrats to support the bill as well as cloture.

The status of Snowe would be no more than a sideshow if Reid could whip together the 60 votes in his caucus. Bob Cesca sees this as a failure of leadership, but it’s more than that.

There are (at least) two fat sellouts in the Democratic caucus who (supposedly) will not vote for cloture despite pressure from Reid, liberal groups, or the seeming inevitability of reform. These sellouts are a bigger obstacle than leadership because they are willing to torpedo genuine reform – it’s in their best interests.

A number of Blue Dogs who have spoken out against the public option indicated last week they were not keen on joining Republicans in a filibuster – these include Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

There are a few whose positions on cloture are not immediately clear, such as Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

And then there is one whose position on the public option has been clear from the beginning yet who has faced surprisingly little public pressure: Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), the Senate’s biggest sellout.

Bayh recently refused to commit to voting for cloture on a bill with a public option,telling Politico, “It’s not fair to ask people to facilitate the enactment of policies with which we ultimately disagree.”

Why might Bayh disagree with the enactment of a public option? And why might this difference in opinion provoke him to vote against cloture?

True Slant’s Rick Ungar may have it figured out: Bayh’s wife Susan sits on the board of directors at Wellpoint (a position coincidentally awarded after he was elected to the Senate) and the Bayh family thanks Wellpoint for much of its income.

Susan Bayh earned more than $2 million from Wellpoint between 2006 and 2008 and holds stock options worth between $500,000 and $1 million. What’s good for Wellpoint is good for the Bayhs, and a public option would not be good for Wellpoint. Susan Bayh has publicly opposed the creation of a public health insurance option.

Post Author: Ronald L. Turner