Note: This column appeared in The Times (of Northwest Indiana) on December 10, 2009.
Politicians get a deservedly bad rap for being windbags. But sometimes they just can’t help themselves but to opine on every issue under the sun whether their thoughts are solicited or not. That’s why it’s even more curious than Benjamin Button that Indiana’s junior senator has been a relative mute on the issue of health care reform as his chamber in Congress takes up the issue.
Sen. Evan Bayh, whom Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said didn’t get the vice presidential nod in 2008 because of his reluctance to take a real stand on issues, has stayed true to form in his attempt to please everyone by pleasing no one on health care.
Bayh’s base is concerned he will vote against a government takeover while non-supporters are freaked out he will eventually cave — or already has — to lobbying from President Barack Obama and congressional leadership, thus becoming the deciding vote. They have good reason to be worried, considering Obama has welcomed Bayh into the Oval Office for at least two one-on-one meetings to discuss the pending legislation.
But you wouldn’t know that Bayh is even paying attention unless you looked real hard. Go to the Web site of most every other member of the Democratic caucus, and you’re welcomed by a flashy graphic or link to their statements on health care and recent remarks on the floor. Not so much on Bayh’s site. He has graphics about his work to impose more sanctions against Iran, reducing the national debt and keeping our military strong. I’m not trying to discount those issues, but the absence of health care at this particular time is quite noticeable.
In fact, a search for health care speeches and op-eds yields a whopping three results, the most recent being an op-ed Bayh penned for the Washington Post back in March.
Late last month, Bayh finally chimed in via a written statement to say he is “reserving judgment” on the bill. Shortly after, news accounts offered another nugget saying Bayh was “reassured” following a Congressional Budget Office report he requested showing that for more than 80 percent of Americans there would be little to no change in their premiums. However, for those most targeted by the bill — the uninsured looking to purchase individual plans — premiums would rise at least 13 percent over the next six years. Glad he’s reassured by that.
His reluctance to speak could be based on a number of factors: not wanting to anger any part of the electorate during his re-election campaign, his wife’s ties to the health care industry or a belief that he can extract some type of monetary reward via earmarks for the state in exchange for his support.
Last week, in one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” moments, someone put Bayh’s vote up for sale on eBay.
Don’t worry, he’s not always so quiet. Although Bayh has yet to make his voice firm on health care he does hold the distinction of being the first member of Congress to congratulate Secretary Hillary Clinton during a hearing on the engagement of her daughter Chelsea. For once, the mute was able to pick a side.