Lawmakers Question How Kennedy’s Death Will Affect Reform Talks
Many congressional leaders are trying to assess how the death of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) will affect the prospect of passing health reform legislation this year, a goal that Kennedy called "the cause of my life," the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/27).
A number of Democrats and health care advocates have indicated that Kennedy's death gives a renewed sense of urgency to passing health reform legislation, according to the New York Times.
On Wednesday, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) said, "Maybe Teddy's passing will remind people once again that we are there to get a job done as he would do."
Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean said that Kennedy's death "absolutely will stiffen the spine of Democrats to get something this year for this extraordinary giant in Senate history."
House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) said, "Above all else, he would want us to redouble our efforts to achieve" health care reform (Hulse/Seelye, New York Times, 8/27).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration" (Noyes, CongressDaily, 8/26).
Advocates Hope Death Will Push Reform Legislation Forward
Some advocates of health reform hope that lawmakers will agree on legislation out of respect for Kennedy, CQ Politics reports.
Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win, said, "The most fitting tribute to honoring the life and legacy of this great statesman is for Congress to pass quality, affordable health care for all this year."
Jack Lewin, CEO of the American College of Cardiology, said, "The sentiments and loyalties to [Kennedy] will certainly nonetheless tilt the Congress' agenda toward passage of some kind of historic health reform bill," which "will be more than it might have been in his honor and memory" (Bettelheim, CQ Politics, 8/26).
Ralph Neas, the head of the National Coalition on Health Care, said that Kennedy's death might inspire some Blue Dog Democrats to support health reform legislation.
Lawmakers Hope Death Will Tone Down Partisan Rhetoric
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that she hoped Kennedy's passing would lead to a more civil conversation surrounding health care reform, noting that "[w]hat he would want us to do is stop the shouting and start the talking," and "find that common ground, even if it is a small little patch, and build it into something" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/27).
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said, "Hopefully at this moment of reflection, some people will reconsider the positions they've taken."
One senior Democratic Senate aide said that Kennedy's "example will hopefully give both sides the needed perspective to soften their rhetoric and pursue a deal, as he did so successfully time and again" (Drucker , Roll Call, 8/26).
Some Observers Are Not Optimistic Death Will End Rancor
Many observers of the health reform debate are not optimistic about the long-term prospects of a cease-fire in the health reform debate, the Times reports.
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said, "We'll pause out of respect for our fallen comrade, but nothing seems to have any effect on the partisanship" (New York Times, 8/27).
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University professor, said, "Polarization is very strong in Washington. There are few centrists," adding, "while there may be a lot of good feelings right now, I don't think it will last after Congress returns in September."
Keith Appell, a spokesperson for Conservatives for Patients' Rights, said, "For whatever reason, liberal Democrats have a tendency to over-politicize events like this," adding, "I don't think this will affect the debate at all" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/27).
An unnamed Democratic health care lobbyist said that although Kennedy's death will likely lead to new calls for bipartisanship, ultimately "I don't think it will rise to the level of trumping other political factors" (Bolton, The Hill, 8/26).
When asked if he would return to bipartisan talks "in memory" of Kennedy, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "I'll be happy to work in a bipartisan basis any day, any time," but "it's got to be on something that's good and not some partisan hack job" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/27).
How Kennedy's Absence Affected Bipartisanship
Kennedy was largely absent from recent health care talks because of his illness, which many Republicans believe deeply affected health care negotiations and made the draft legislation more partisan, according to the Times.
Hatch said that Kennedy was "the only Democrat who could really move all the Democrats' special interests into coming along" with a bipartisan approach. Hatch added his committee produced a "one-sided, partisan bill" because of Kennedy's absence (New York Times, 8/27).
One senior Senate Republican aide said on Wednesday, "The one undeniable truth about Ted Kennedy's major legislative accomplishments was that, in the end, they were bipartisan," noting that "[i]f ever there was an issue in need of that remarkable skill, it is health care reform" (Drucker , Roll Call, 8/26).
Paul Light of New York University's Center for the Study of Congress said, "The debate is now stalled and getting vicious. Kennedy wouldn't have allowed it" (Ferraro, Reuters, 8/26).
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said that "had [Kennedy's] health allowed him to fully participate, we would be far closer to consensus today on a path to health care in America whose quality provides better outcomes, whose cost is more affordable, and whose access is more broad" (CongressDaily, 8/26).
However, not everyone believes Kennedy would have had an effect on the negotiations.
John Feehery, a former senior House Republican leadership aide, said, "I don't think Kennedy could have brought the package home as currently constructed," adding, "I am also not sure if he would have not overreached as badly as congressional Democrats have done to get to the hopeless situation they are now in" (Hook/Oliphant, Los Angeles Times, 8/27).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on Kennedy's impact on health reform and other domestic legislation (Welna, "All Things Considered," NPR, 8/26).In addition, "All Things Considered" featured a discussion with Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne about the implications of Kennedy's death (Siegel, "All Things Considered," NPR, 8/26). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.