Sen. Kennedy’s Death Prompts Questions About Implications for Reform
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) died on Tuesday after fighting a cancerous brain tumor for more than 15 months, Roll Call reports. He was 77 years old.
Kennedy, who this summer called health care reform "the cause of my life," was unable to guide recent reform efforts in Congress because of his health complications. His absence caused some to wonder if overhaul attempts would have progressed more smoothly had he been able to personally shepherd reform legislation (Pierce, Roll Call, 8/26).
A Legacy of Lawmaking
Kennedy's skill at dealmaking was proven through his accomplishments over the course of almost 50 years in the Senate.
President Obama said, "For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts" (Johnson, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/26).
Some of his key successes include the passage of HIPAA, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Americans with Disabilities Act (Roll Call, 8/26). He also helped approve legislation that improved abortion clinic access, family leave and helped establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/26).
Kennedy also was known as a longtime supporter of Medicare, as well as health care for low-income residents under Medicaid. He was a member of the Senate when both programs were created in 1965 (Roll Call, 8/26).
Succession in Question
In a letter dated July 2, Kennedy asked Massachusetts state lawmakers to allow Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to quickly name a temporary successor upon his death, the New York Times reports. Although the letter did not specifically mention health care reform, the request was seen as an affirmation that Kennedy's death could leave the status of health reform legislation uncertain, according to the Times (Wheaton, New York Times, 8/26).
Current Massachusetts law requires a special election for the open seat no sooner than 145 days after its vacancy and no later than 160 days. The law also bans an interim appointee (AP/Washington Post, 8/26).
Kennedy asked that the appointee offer an "explicit, personal commitment" not to run for the seat in the special election.
Setback, or Momentum Changer?
According to the Times, the delay caused by the special election could be a setback for Democrats' attempts to garner 60 votes to move health reform legislation forward without the chance of filibuster (New York Times, 8/26).However, many proponents of an overhaul hope that Kennedy's death will provide an emotional catalyst to renew momentum for his favored cause, the Wall Street Journal reports (Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, 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.