New York Times: Doppelgängers on the Senate Floor

As if it weren’t hard enough to parse the fine points of health care policy, Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland and the main sponsor of a women’s health amendment approved by the Senate on Thursday, went to great lengths to make sure that viewers and listeners could recognize the differences between her amendment and a rival proposal put forward by Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska.

“I say vote for Mikulski. Don’t vote for Murkowski. And please, on this one, get it straight.”

— Senator Barbara Mikulski

Even more important, given their similar-sounding names, Ms. Mikulski also wanted to make sure that no one confused her with her Republican colleague.

“By the way,” Ms. Mikulski said, digressing for a moment in one of her floor speeches. “She’s Murkowski. I’m Mikulski. We sound alike. And the amendments might sound alike. But boy, are they different.”

She added: “Her amendment is flawed. My amendment is terrific.”

The two women are friends, a point that was abundantly clear in the debate. “Let’s go with Mikulski, and thank Murkowski,” Ms. Mikulski said at one point.

But for regular C-Span viewers, it is not particularly hard to distinguish between the gentlewoman from Maryland and the gentlewoman from Alaska.

Ms. Mikulski, 73, is dark-haired and broad-shouldered, and at 4 feet 11 inches she is the shortest, and at times the toughest, of senators.

Ms. Murkowski, 52, is thin, tall enough to look many of her male colleagues in the eye and rarely raises her voice.

During the debate, both senators had kind words for the other. “While we do have, some would say, dueling amendments,” Ms. Murkowski said, “I think it is important to recognize that the goals that awe are both seeking to attain here are certainly right in alignment. We’re just choosing different means to get there. But I appreciate again the civility and cooperation from not only Senator Mikulski but the other women of the Senate on this very important issue.”

In recent months, Ms. Mikulski and Ms. Murkowski both spent time hobbling around the Senate after breaking ankles.

“As we get ready to conclude the debate on both Mikulski, as in Barbara Mikulski, and Murkowski, as in Lisa Murkowski, amendment, I want to first say a word about the senator from Alaska, that we’ve worked together on the health, education committee, we’ve worked together as women of the Senate to provide access to women’s health services, and not too long ago when I had my awful fall, she gave me much wisdom and counsel and practical tips because she herself had broken her ankles. So to us, when you say to Senator Lisa or to Senator Barb, ‘break a leg,’ it has a whole different meaning to us.”

Later, she added: “I say vote for Mikulski. Don’t vote for Murkowski. And please, on this one, get it straight.”

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Source: By David M. Herszenhorn. Originally published on December 03, 2009