If you have ever watched World Cup soccer (better known as football) you’ve seen the following. When a player is injured and unable to run up and down the field, the other team will not press their advantage but will kick the ball out of bounds, granting an opportunity for the injured player to be tended to and replaced. It’s called sportsmanship. In American sports you will occasionally see the same thing happen in basketball and even ice hockey. Well…

In politics we sometimes have something similar happen. Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota suffered cerebral bleeding in December 2006 and has suffered through a long recovery. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia has been hospitalized more than once in this congress with infections and other maladies. And Sen. Edward Kennedy was recently diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent intrusive brain surgery. All of these cases left the Democrats short of their normal 51-49 advantage in the Senate chamber. The Republicans have generally been sportsmanlike in not pressing any advantage from momentary illnesses of Democratic members. That changed today.

Today we had a vote to invoke cloture (cut off debate and move to a vote) on the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008. The vote required 60 members to approve cloture and we only gained 58. But, if you look at the vote, we actually had 59, just one short of the necessary number. For procedural reasons, Majority Leader Harry Reid has to change his vote from ‘aye’ to ‘nay’ in order to have standing to reintroduce the vote at a later time. Including Harry Reid’s ‘aye’ vote, the Medicare Act actually garnered 59 votes. There were two people that did not vote. John McCain did not vote because, presumably, he is on the campaign trail. The other senator that didn’t vote was Teddy Kennedy. And he didn’t vote because he is recovering from brain surgery.

In a sportsmanlike world, one Republican, any Republican, would have cast a vote for cloture in recognition that the only reason the cloture vote was failing was because Teddy Kennedy was unavailable to vote. But they didn’t do it. They pressed their advantage.

I think that is contemptible.

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