It's a Senate, Not a Hospice

Some people are upset that the Republicans are forcing poor Sen. Robert Byrd (Invalid-W.V.) to actually show up and vote on the healthcare bill. We hope they drag him bodily to every roll call vote until he kicks or retires.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein describes the GOP's delay tactics, which involve forcing every Democratic senator—even the ones who are only marginally capable of physically performing their duties as U.S. senators—to show up in the chamber as "vicious and cruel":

Another example came Sunday night, when the ailing Robert Byrd was wheeled in at 1 a.m. to break a filibuster on the manager's amendment. Byrd's presence was not required, especially considering that he'd clearly telegraphed his intention to vote to break the filibuster. But Republicans forced him to travel to the chamber.... The Senate hasn't just lost a bit of its collegiality. It's become heartlessly ferocious....

It's a Senate, Not a Hospice

The Post's Dana Milbank concurs, writing with tender sympathy that "it would not be easy for Byrd to get out of bed in the wee hours with deep snow on the ground and ice on the roads." The Huffington Post went with the headline, "BROKEN SYSTEM: GOP Forcing Sick 92-Year-Old Senator To Capitol Every Day."

Whatever hardships Byrd suffers in order to actually show up and do his job are self-imposed. He can no longer function as a senator, and he has no business being one. If he gave a damn about representing the citizens of West Virginia effectively, he would have retired a decade ago. But he cares more about power—or, more accurately, the staffers who have effective control over his vote and his office care more about power—so he has apparently resolved to stay in his seat until he dies, irrespective of whether he can actually do the job. After all, there are always more highways to name after him. The GOP leadership are perfectly within their rights to call the Democrats' bluff and make them haul Byrd's broken frame into the Senate, and they're doing everyone a service by exposing the lunacy in pretending that he's actually a functioning member of that body.

Byrd has done many good things, and many awful things. He was a Klansman and a great historian of the Senate, a pork-barreler of epic proportions and a veritable scholar of Shakespeare. It's not his fault that he is old, and sick, and falls down all the time. But the fact remains that he is old, and sick, and falls down all the time. Whatever justifications he has to remain in office—and at this point there are none aside from avarice, sentimentality, or ego—are far outweighed by the needs of his constituents, who have been effectively without a senator for years.

Klein, Milbank, and HuffPo are also exercised about Sen. Tom Coburn's apparent prayer for Byrd to die before he could cast his vote. Wishing for such is indefensible and crazy and medieval. But if and when Byrd does die, the people he claims to represent will be better off for it.