Durbin fails Illinois

Where's Sen. Dick Durbin when you need him?

While
other senators were making gravy for their states in exchange for
supporting health care legislation, Durbin parlayed his job as
Democratic whip, the second most powerful party job in the Senate,
into, well, nothing for his home state of Illinois.


durbin2.jpg

By providing the necessary 60th vote needed for the bill's passage, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson unconscionably extorted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefits for his native Nebraska. Among other things, the federal government will pick up Nebraska's entire $100 million bill for a Medicaid expansion. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu corralled a similar package for her Louisiana. Other Democratic senators, including Max Baucus of Montana, Chris Dodd of ConnecticutPatrick Leahy of Vermont and Bill Nelson of Florida reaped similar goodies for their states.

Durbin harvested nothing on the same scale for Illinois, but he did tout his effort to include in the bill provisions to increase awareness, education and research into congenital heart disease. Certainly, that's a good cause, but for someone who brags about bringing home the bacon, Durbin has left Illinois oddly empty-handed.

In case you're wondering, Illinois' other Democratic senator, Roland Burris, bragged about "working to include" in the bill some vapid language about reducing "health care disparities." 

Don't misunderstand. I'm not arguing that critically important legislation should hang on logrolling that grants some states special benefits that others don't get. States like Illinois that will pay for other states' sweeteners. Illinois voters have the right to feel chumped. You might even argue that Illinois deserved a big payoff because if not for us, the Senate would never have passed the health care legislation. Let's review:

Barack Obama's election as president left his Senate seat vacant. It should have been filled by a special election; even Durbin at first said so. But the Democratic leadership realized that Illinois voters were so upset by the hash that the party has made of the state, that a Republican could have been elected. So, the party decided it couldn't allow an election, even if the despised Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Obama's successor. Ergo, Sen. Roland Burris.

In hindsight, Burris' appointment may have affected the health care fight outcome. If a Republican had been elected, the 60 Senate votes needed to end debate on the bill, thereby securing its passage, might never had been obtained. 

You'll remember that Burris practically took an oath that he would never vote for a health care bill that did not contain a strong public option. But he ended up voting for a bill -- the one that passed -- without the public option. Last week he denied that he had flip-flopped, noting that his definition of a public option was broad enough to embrace what the Senate passed last week. Don't ask me to explain it. But you're right to wonder what succor awaits Burris for his vote after he leaves office.

Not that Burris would have thought to hold out like the two Nelsons and Landrieu to win special consideration for his own home state. That would have been too much to expect from someone as self-absorbed as Burris. 

One might argue that because Durbin wasn't on the fence on health care, he wasn't in a position to leverage special considerations. That being a blue state solidly in the Democratic camp negated any advantage Illinois might have had. Although that didn't seem to stop other Democratic leaders like Baucus, Dodd and Leahy from extracting special favors for their states. Imagine the favors Illinois might have enjoyed if Illinois had elected a moderate Republican who would have demanded favors in exchange for his vote. Or maybe he would have stood on principle and just voted against the bill because it was so lousy.

Trading votes for special favors is wrong and one reason the public rightly holds Congress in such contempt. The public should be outraged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., caved into such demands to secure passage of this unpopular, messy and costly bill. Reid and Democrats will pay for it in the next election. 

What Illinois voters will do in the next election, though, is not so clear. A few pundits expect that we'll be rational and elect a Republican like Mark Kirk. More than likely, though, we'll figure out a way to chump ourselves and the country again by electing the same old batch of losers.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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