Kennedy’s Absence Felt As Health Reform Push Intensifies
Congressional Democrats seeking leadership are feeling Sen. Edward Kennedy's absence in the looming health care reform debate as he continues his battle with brain cancer, and struggles to return to Washington, The New York Times reports.
The Massachusetts Democrat, a leader on health reform, has helped write a bill being prepared by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee he chairs. "Though Mr. Kennedy continues to work closely on the unfolding legislation and is in constant touch with staff members and colleagues, he is not expected to return to the Capitol as formal debate begins this month, either for committee hearings or when the legislation moves to the Senate floor." That has left a gap for Democrats looking for answers to Republican counters to their health reform proposals.
For now, Democrats wait and "Kennedy's close friend, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who is the No. 2 Democrat on the health committee, has taken on the main role. He is supported by the leaders of three health care 'working groups' that Mr. Kennedy created in November, which is when he tapped Mr. Dodd to be his 'chief deputy.'"
"Mr. Kennedy's absence has raised alarm among Democrats and Republicans who say that his gravitas and the force of his personality, particularly his ability to usher colleagues past minor disputes in pursuit of larger goals, will be missed as the debate heats up" (Herszenhorn, 6/8).
Reuters: "'Kennedy is critical to passage (of healthcare legislation),' said James Thurber of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. 'That doesn't mean a bill wouldn't pass without him,' Thurber said. 'Other people are involved. But he's the key. He knows more about healthcare than anyone else in the Senate, he's widely respected by both parties and is one of the most important senators in history'" (Ferraro, 6/8).
The Boston Globe: "Still, committee Democrats yesterday highlighted two more potential components of the healthcare bill. Senator Tom Harkin said he is going to push to wrap into the healthcare package a bill known as the Community Choice Act, which would let people who qualify for long-term care services - either medical or personal assistance - decide whether to receive them at home or in an institutional setting. Harkin said the legislation would cost billions, but in a healthcare bill that will cost $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over a decade, 'I'm here to tell you that $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion is not much to ask'" (Wangsness, 6/9).
While Kennedy is away, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., also is ill with a staph infection, thinning the near-filibuster proof Democratic majority in the Senate, Politico reports: "Instead, Democrats have just a 57-40 majority - meaning that, on any issue, the GOP can lose two Republican votes and still deny the Democrats the votes needed to stop a filibuster" (Raju, 6/9).