Overwork is a huge problem for a lot of people, but one group seems to have found a way to avoid it: long known as “the world’s most-exclusive club,” the 100-member US Senate hasn’t had a full vote for the past seven months.
According to the Washington Examiner, this is a result of a narrowly-divided chamber with lots of old and/or infirm members. At least one member has been missing from every roll call vote since August 2022, which by the way was a crucial midterm election year.
Just as the US population is divided, Congress is also. During 2021-22, the Senate had an even 50-50 tie, with Democrat Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the crucial tie-breaking vote many times. Incredible focus and money was spent on the elections last November, giving the GOP a wafer-thin majority in the House and the Democrats a 51-49 edge in the Senate.
Anyone with a heart would feel compassion for someone recovering from a serious illness. However, that shouldn’t mean someone with certain disabilities can perform any job. A man with a broken leg or torn ACL shouldn’t be playing football or basketball. But when some folks tried to point out that John Fetterman, 53, recovering from a stroke and struggling to form sentences or even carry on a simple Q&A shouldn’t be running for the Senate, his supporters slammed such concerns as “ableism,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Nonetheless, Pennsylvania voters chose to give one of their two Senate seats to Fetterman, thus giving the Democrats the 51 votes to have a clear (if slim) majority. Fetterman’s win also inspired this outrageous headline from the satire site Babylon Bee: “Biden Call To Congratulate Fetterman Lasts Three Hours As Neither Can Form A Coherent Sentence.”
Unfortunately for Sen. Fetterman, not long after taking office he checked himself into the hospital for severe depression. Tragically, some medical professionals now claim that, by having campaigned last year instead of taking a long rest, he may have prolonged his recovery or even made the damage permanent.
Also, at 89 the Senate’s oldest member, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has been hospitalized with shingles. So, those two absences brought the Dems 51 to 49. The Republicans’ larger vote of 50 recently vaporized too, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at 81 falling down the stairs at a Washington hotel and suffering a concussion and rib fracture. He has been released from the hospital but is now in rehab.
The back and forth of which party can hobble together the majority with healthy members inspired this gem from the Babylon Bee: “Senate To Now Be Controlled By Whichever Party Has Fewer Senators In Hospital.”
So, in a 51-49 Senate where one absence can upset the balance of power, major votes are being postponed.
Driving this is the fact that so many senators are very old. As I’ve often told my students, the word stem “sen” as in senator means “old.” It’s also the same word stem found in senior, seniority, and senility.
With McConnell out, Senate Republicans are being led by John Thune (South Dakota). With the three senators in the hospital, it seems some other senators are skipping work too. Thune explained the lack of votes this way: “People feel maybe a little bit more flexibility than they would if we were doing really consequential legislating right now. Then you’ve got folks who have just serious either health or family health issues, and I think you gotta respect that.”
So according to Thune, they’re not “doing really consequential legislating right now.” So, let me get this straight: war in Ukraine, threats in Asia and the Middle East, high inflation, record budget deficits, no budget yet, bank failures, possible arrest of a former president, proof of government-big tech collusion to censor free speech rights, toxic divisiveness tearing apart our country, declining trust in institutions, questions about the origin of Covid, etc. But according to Sen. Thune, “nothing important to work on nowadays….”