Will Kennedy’s Death Add Momentum To The Health Care Push?
News reports examine the speculation, which has already begun, regarding the impact of Sen. Edward Kennedy's passing might have on the current health reform debate.
NPR gets at the bottom line questions being asked in health policy circles: "Many on Capitol Hill are now wondering how or whether the current acrimonious debate over Obama's health care initiative could be affected by Kennedy's passing at age 77." People wonder whether it could quiet the angry health reform rhetoric and give the proposals he supported new momentum. "Or has Kennedy's public absence from the Hill over the past few months as he battled brain cancer - and the contentious debate that overhaul proposals have inspired nationwide - mean that his influence will quickly pass?"
NPR notes that "labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest, were among organizations that were quick to seize upon the senator's death to urge Congress to pass overhaul legislation in his honor. ... Even those on the other side of the debate predicted that there would be a desire to honor the senator, and an afterglow left by his legacy that could give momentum to overhaul advocates." But the open questions remains whether the effect will be temporary or sustained (Halloran, 8/26).
CBS: "(W)hile few could have orchestrated the bipartisan cooperation Kennedy may have been able to, his seat in the Senate was also crucial for Democratic plans to bypass Republican dissent." Democrats now control 59 votes in the Senate -- not enough to allow their caucus to be able to block a filibuster against health care legislation. "It is even unclear whether Democrats have enough votes to pass health care legislation through the reconciliation process -- a voting procedure for budget-related items that only requires a simple majority." And, unless the Massachusetts legislature chooses to change state law, the seat will stay open until a special election is held, which could occur in January.
Meanwhile, CBS News' Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder writes the following: "It is hard to tell whether his death -- inevitable as it has seemed -- is priced in to the politics of the debate so far. But Orrin Hatch, and other Republicans who worked with Kennedy, might be in a more expansive mood to compromise. Kennedy would probably encourage such speculation and not find it unseemly -- so important to him was the goal of getting something done, this year, under this president" (Condon, 8/26).
Fox News: "With the push for legislation hitting a rough patch, Democrats are trying, however delicately, to use Kennedy's passing as a rallying cry for the legislation, reminding voters that the package idling on the Hill was 'the cause' of Kennedy's life." But it is uncertain if this development "will invigorate proponents of the debate."
Fox notes that liberal Democrats may return to President Obama's side, "following concerns about the possibility that the final product would not contain a government-run insurance plan." But Kennedy's "absence also means one fewer vote for health care reform should it come to the floor. And Republicans made little reference to health care reform while expressing their condolences Wednesday." Some Democrats have in tributes today "cited his dedication to health care foremost, with the clear implication that Congress should honor him by finishing his work." And one of the advocacy groups opposed to Democrats' health care proposals, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, "suspended its ad campaign on Wednesday out of respect for the Kennedy family" (8/26).
Meanwhile, Bloomberg is reporting that "Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd is considering whether to succeed Edward Kennedy as leader of the Health Committee and give up his post on the panel that steers legislation on the financial industry." Dodd, 65, a long-time friend of Kennedy. He stepped in "to lead debate on health-care legislation in Congress while Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and architect of health-care policy during his career, recovered from brain cancer surgery." (Vekshin, 8/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.