Correction to This Article
A previous version of this piece incorrectly identified Sens. John Barasso and Jim Bunning as Democrats.

Punch-drunk legislating in the Senate

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

As he kicked off another day in the interminable Senate health-care debate, Majority Leader Harry Reid put himself in the position of the man whose beating by cops led to the 1992 Los Angeles race riots.

"I would hope that everyone would go back to their gentlemanly ways," proposed the Nevada Democrat. "I've said to a number of people, Rodney King: Let's just all try to get along."

Already the partisans had invoked Nazis and lynch mobs, accused the other side of "flipping the bird" and prayed for misfortune to befall those who wouldn't vote their way. Reid earlier had likened the opposition to slaveholders and opponents of civil rights. So it was perhaps inevitable that Rodney King and his famous "can we all get along?" plea would make a cameo appearance.

Perhaps the senators should be given some slack for their strange words and actions on the Senate floor this week, treating the country to everything from catnaps to poetry readings. These people are tired, after all. Enacting health-care reform has gone from a legislative activity to an endurance sport.

They've been kept in session more or less constantly since Thanksgiving, and in the final days it has become a test of machismo. Republicans forced the delay, Democrats, up against a Christmas deadline, responded by forcing votes at odd hours, 1 a.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Just before the 1 a.m. vote Monday, a weary Reid was speaking on the floor when he confused aging Americans with African Americans. Vowing that the legislation would make drugs cheaper, he said: "These are some of the reasons that AARP, the American Association for the Advancement of Colored Peop -- I'm sorry, the American Association of Retired People, not the NAACP. I'm sorry about that, Mr. President. These are some of the reasons AARP and its 40 million members are supporting this bill."

Black people, old people, whatever.

Tuesday morning, it was Sen. Roland Burris's turn for some punch-drunk legislating. The Blagojevich appointee, recognized to deliver a speech on the Senate floor, instead offered a ditty:

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the Senate

The right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it.

The people had voted, they mandated reform

But Republicans blew off the gathering storm

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