Another Burris Surprise

Stance moves him near center of health care debate

By Steve Rhodes
|  Friday, Oct 16, 2009  |  Updated 3:34 PM CDT
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Chicago's Political Players

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Well played, Mr. Burris. Well played.

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Suddenly Roland Burris has become one of the most important U.S. Senators in all the land.

That's what can happen when a potentially historic piece of legislation like health care reform needs every vote it can get.

The Wall Street Journal has named Burris one of six key senators to watch as the battle moves to the Senate floor.

Why?

Because Burris has said he'll only vote for a reform bill if it includes the public option.

Now, that's not exactly a reason for the Journal to get its undies in a bunch. After all, Burris isn't the only senator to voice that opinion - though it's a more commonly held principle in the House. And Burris's sentiments on the matter have been less wishy-washy than those of colleagues such as Jay Rockefeller and Bernie Sanders.

"A public option must be a central component of any health insurance reform legislation," Burris wrote in an Op-Ed that appeared in the Chicago Tribune last week. "The stakes are too high to settle for anything less."

But Burris is one of the few, if not the only Senator, that does not have to please his constituents and worry about reelection. He doesn't have any constituents and it's nearly a foregone conclusion that he's not getting reelected.

Still, it's a little tough to take Burris having any importance - or even any say - in the matter considering how he gained (and held) his office. After all, he's still under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

And if it really comes down to his vote, the late-night comics will have a field day. Local journalist and author Carol Felsenthal is already suggesting on Huffington Post a raft of deals that the White House could use to seduce Burris into backing down if need be - including help neutralizing the ethics committee or the promise of an ambassadorship.

Knowing Burris, he'll enjoy the attention. His office has already distributed the Wall Street Journal piece to reporters - with glee, certainly.

Roland Burris, in the middle of history once again. Now we'll see just how much Dems from the White House on down regret backing down on their threats not to seat him. And if progressives passionate about the public option find themselves an unlikely hero.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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