James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Medicare & the missing McCain

Posted by James McPherson on July 9, 2008

Despite battling brain cancer, Ted Kennedy showed up (to a standing ovation) in the Senate today to help pass a veto-proof Medicare bill. The bill blocked a 10-percent pay cut for doctors, whom many Republicans apparently think are overpaid when they accept Medicare. Kennedy was escorted into the chamber by Barack Obama, who also voted for the bill.

And John McCain, whose Web site boasts that when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid he would “reform” the payment system to cut costs, because, “Medicaid and Medicare should not pay for preventable medical errors or mismanagement”? He was the only senator to miss the vote entirely, traveling to Ohio and California to campaign just in case those folks didn’t know he was running for president. As Washington Post blogger Ben Pershing points out, “Yesterday marked the two-month anniversary of the last time McCain cast a Senate vote, on April 8. The Medicare vote marked the 76th consecutive tally McCain has missed.”

McCain also has called for some seniors to pay more for their Medicare benefits, while trying to cobble together a health care plan that would actually cover someone who cost sick or hurt while costing taxpayers nothing. That may not be a bad idea, especially for those who marry as well as McCain did.

McCain refused to comment on another health issue–why he apparently thinks it’s OK for the government to pay for Viagra but not birth control (duh… guess which he needs?), saying, “I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote, I’ve cast thousands of votes in the Senate.” Just none lately.

Pershing also notes that McCain criticized Obama for an alleged flipflog on terrorism (in which Obama voted exactly like McCain probably would have), while also skipping that vote. What is it that politicians tell the electorate all the time? If you don’t vote, don’t complain?

Next day update: Blogger “Jordan Says” has nice comment with YouTube video of McCain’s reaction when asked the Viagra question.

6 Responses to “Medicare & the missing McCain”

  1. I’m more interested in the total record than just today’s attendance. How many total senate votes have each of the candidates missed in the past two years? I realize this is something I could just look up, but is there a convenient place to find this kind of information online? I don’t know the numbers, but it would seem odd to condemn McCain for missing one vote if Obama has actually missed more votes overall.

    Isn’t it exciting that we have two senators running for president and we can actually compare this sort of thing? We can look at how they voted on the same issues, how many days they were present, etc. You said yourself (in Media Crit two years ago) that another senator may never be elected because senators can so easily be painted as flip-floppers by the other side. I’m glad we’re breaking that scary potential precedent.

    Also, you have to give props to Kennedy for showing up today. He may not be everyone’s favorite senator, but I don’t care who you are: Going to work when you’re battling brain cancer takes guts.

  2. Luis Lopez said


    Thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are a myriad of sources to look up the voting records of each U.S. senator. I just googled “missed votes by Obama,” (without the parentheses), and a site came up, Govtrack.us. The site states since the beginning of 2006, there have been a total of 872 votes cast by the U.S. Senate. When comparing Senators Obama and McCain, Obama has missed 257 votes, or about 29%. McCain has missed about 44% of votes, or 391.

    Voting records aside, I would like to emphasize how historic this upcoming election is, because of the fact two Senators are running. Looking back, John F. Kennedy was the last time a sitting Senator was elected. Moreover, since Kennedy’s election in 1960, all Presidents following him have either been Governors (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush), or Vice-Presidents (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, George H.W. Bush).

    As you mentioned Caleb, it’s great that we can view the voting records of our Presidential candidates in order to make an informed decision on Election Day. That’s democracy for you.

    Lastly, ditto on Kennedy.

  3. James McPherson said

    Luis, thanks for the info, and Caleb, great question about the comparative voting. I don’t know of a head-to-head source (any help, out there?), but Project VoteSmart has kept track of votes, broken down into different areas (abortion, agriculture, etc.) since at least 1995, listing them as Y (Yes), Y (No) or NV (No Vote). You can see McCain’s record at http://www.votesmart.org/voting_category.php?can_id=53270 and Obama’s at http://www.votesmart.org/voting_category.php?can_id=9490.

    Also, the Washington Post has a database of every vote since 1991, and it seems there should be a way to do direct comparisons but I haven’t looked into that deeply. You can see it at http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/. And finally, the Library of Congress has a database of all roll call votes (so you could look for individual votes and see who vote yes or no) since at least 1990 at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/rollcallvotes.html.

    Actually, I don’t have a huge problem with candidates missing a lot of votes. Many of the votes are procedural, and campaigning is important. But when a senator skips a vote on something he says is a key issue (like McCain with Medicare), I find that more interesting.

  4. […] I’m cranky, and I disagree with almost everything else I said a year ago, back when I was still voting in the Senate–so elect me president before I die or before my rich wife leaves me for one of […]

  5. […] himself was a Senator for all of that time, though he hasn’t showed up for the past five months. Giuliani made fun of Obama for voting “present,” but it has been quite a while since […]

  6. […] same guy who hasn’t cast a vote in Senate since April 8. He couldn’t even show up to vote for a Medicare bill for which even a cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy […]

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