August 27th, 2009
03:09 PM ET
5 years ago

Kennedy death may bolster health reform, analyst says

Ironically, Sen. Kennedy's death might bring about a change of tactics for health care reform.
Ironically, Sen. Kennedy's death might bring about a change of tactics for health care reform.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – For almost 50 years, Sen. Ted Kennedy pushed unsuccessfully for legislation that would reform the health-care system and ensure coverage for every American.

Ironically, his death might bring about a change of tactics that would help reach the goal he was unable to achieve in life, one veteran political
analyst says.

"Kennedy's departure may in fact increase the chances that we get a more sweeping health-care bill," American Enterprise Institute analyst Norman Ornstein recently told CNN.

As Congress prepares to reconvene and resume the fight over President Barack Obama's top domestic priority, Democratic leaders are expressing concern over the consequences of Kennedy's passing.

Who might follow in Kennedy's footsteps on health care? CNN Radio reports


Kennedy was the chairman of the critical Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and provided a potential 60th Democratic vote, which would be needed to break a Republican Senate filibuster.

He also was a highly respected negotiator, capable of crafting compromises with political opponents on the thorniest issues.

He had "a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions, which really are the essence of successful
negotiations," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

The White House is still publicly pushing for a bipartisan compromise. And a group of six Senate negotiators - three Democrats and three Republicans - is working on a bill capable of winning votes on both sides of the aisle.

But Kennedy's death, Ornstein argued, could change Democratic calculations on how to proceed from this point.

"The possibility the Democrats have of getting a bill with 60 votes now - which requires compromising and getting Republicans - has just gone down," Ornstein told CNN.

Without Kennedy, Democrats now have 57 senators. Two independents - Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont - caucus with the Democrats.

One Democrat - 91-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia - is in questionable health and may not be able to play any role in the health-care debate. Current Massachusetts law does not allow that state's Democratic governor to appoint an interim replacement for Kennedy, and a special election to fill his seat will not occur for several months.

As a result, Ornstein argued, Democratic leaders may now try to short-circuit the traditional Senate legislative process by passing a more
partisan bill through an obscure tactic known as reconciliation, a type of budget maneuver that requires only a simple majority - 51 votes - to pass.

Republicans have equated such a move to legislative warfare.

"That is really sort of denying democracy," GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said on "FOX News Sunday" last weekend. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has called it "an abuse of the process."

Some Democrats have also expressed discomfort with the idea.

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, one of the Democrats working to hammer out a bipartisan bill, recently argued that using the reconciliation tactic "does not work very well."

"When you examine the way reconciliation works, it was designed solely for deficit reduction. ... It never contemplated substantive legislation," he said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Ramming a bill through on a party-line vote may also be unpopular with the public as a whole. A Quinnipiac University survey in early August showed that 59 percent of registered voters nationwide oppose passage of health-care legislation if the bill fails to win bipartisan support.

If Democrats nevertheless resort to reconciliation, Ornstein said, they would be "sorely tempted" to include the kind of government-funded public health insurance option favored by Kennedy and the rest of the party's liberal base.

Almost every Republican opposes such an option, claiming it would destroy the current private-insurance-based system.

But if Democrats go it alone, by one line of reasoning, there is no reason not to get as much as possible.

"So there may be a great irony here," Ornstein said. "Kennedy, by not being there, may have increased the chances of getting something closer to what he would have preferred."

Can Democratic leaders use the emotion tied to Kennedy's death to forge a compromise with Republicans?

"My hope is that this will cause people to take a breath, and step back and start talking to each other again in civil tones about what needs to be done," Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a close Kennedy friend, said Wednesday.

"Hopefully at this moment of reflection some people will reconsider the positions they've taken," added Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

Not likely, Ornstein argued.

"Now that Kennedy is gone, certainly some close Republican friends of (his) like Hatch are going to be asked to do one for Teddy. I don't think that inducement will work," he said. When it comes to health care, there are "very real, substantive, ideological and partisan differences. One person's memory will not make all the difference."

Kennedy "did not live to see the goal of health-care reform," Ornstein said. "But I am sure that his supporters, his family and his friends are
hoping that the legacy will still be there even in his absence."

–CNN's Kevin Bohn and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report


Filed under: Health care • Ted Kennedy
soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. LacrosseMom

    At the very least, Sen. Kennedy will be praying for our leaders to do the right and moral thing and pass healthcare reform!

    Rest in peace, Sen. Kennedy, and God bless your family.

    August 27, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  2. DOA

    Even Jesus couldn't bring this bill back to life.

    August 27, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  3. NH Independent

    If this gets passed because some politician died then we are in more trouble than orginally thought

    August 27, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  4. Randolph Carter, rammin' healthcare down yer throats!

    Yeah, that's great. Too bad they've already stripped any real reform out of the bill at the bidding of their corporate masters. Have a nice day!

    August 27, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  5. Farrell in Houston

    Both Democrats and Republicans who have spoken so highly of Senator Kennedy should show the same respect and work together to bring about healthcare reform.

    August 27, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  6. Won't happen.....

    read the polls...Americans do not want this.....and we especially do not want rationing.....

    August 27, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. Rick In OP

    Quote from CNN article:

    "Ironically, his death might bring about a change of tactics that would help reach the goal he was unable to achieve in life, one veteran political analyst says".

    Out of respect for the dead I will keep my mouth shut. But if you think the passing of Sen. Kennedy is going to generate enough sympathy to allow a socialist takeover of the health-care system, you are gravely mistaken.

    August 27, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  8. Sam's Nemesis

    .....but hopefully NOT !!

    August 27, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. Kevin in Ohio

    "Do it for Ted" won't fly in middle-America. It only makes sense to the liberal elitists. Obamacare has so many holes and traps in it, America is already wise to its dangers. If Ted were still around, there might be hope that there could be consensus on some pieces of this proposed legislation. But no...the liberal establishment wants us to eat this entire elephant in one bite.

    August 27, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  10. Jim

    No I don't think so as it still has the inept hands of Obama on it. If Kennedy had been healthy enough during this healthcare debacle to do his work behind the scenes it might have had a chance. I do not think Americans want Kennedy's name on this pitiful legislation. Obamacare is a perfect name for it if they can pass it.

    August 27, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  11. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    Even dead, Kennedy can't keep his sticky fingers out of my wallet!

    Of course, he no longer has to pay the political consequences of trying to saddle Americans with insane levels of debt to pay for a health care entitlement program that benefits the welfare bums at the expense of the rest of us. Living politicians, on the other hand, will definitely feel the wrath, in 2010 and 2012, if they continue to try to sink the US economy in an absolutely futile effort to achieve some sort of socialist Utopia.

    I just don't understand why the far Left thinks it just to screw hard working people and reward indolence and improvidence.

    August 27, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. charlie in Maine

    I can't help but think that Teddy would be proud and impressed if the Democrats were able to use his death to further the cause to which he devoted his life. Since Obama is not a "credit hog" I'm sure if it passed with the name "Kennedy Public Healthcare Plan" he would sign it right away. I say go for it. the sooner the better. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

    August 27, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  13. victim of republican greed

    With health care reform, the republican congressmen will not jeopardize their big donations from the health care industry. The democrats will have to work this out for Americans without republicans support.

    By the way, the market is up 1300 points since January 20, merchandise orders are up, house sales are up, house prices have increased, a depression has been avoided, and we are coming out of the deep recession, the stimulus taxcuts are working, the cash for clunkers was a success. All this without any help from the party of no.

    August 27, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  14. k

    Do analysts and the liberal media assume that Americans are so dumb as to be swayed to approve of something just because of the death of someone? Or is it their way to make Americans think that we need to do this??? God help us!

    August 27, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  15. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    All the more reason why the President shouldn't be swayed on the public option. Stick to your guns Mr. President.

    August 27, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  16. Ren from Baltimore

    To the extent that Senator Ted Kennedy's passing reminds us all what it means to legislate-fairness, generosity, give and take mindset, broad perspective and knowledge, humanity-we _should_ now be able to swing back to more civil behavior on all sides.

    Let true discourse begin, if not for the sake of his family, then for the sake of our elderly, our children, our poor and disadvantaged.

    August 27, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  17. Mike

    This health care program is still a pig no matter what you name it.

    August 27, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. seebofubar

    Remind me not to hire this analist. He must be living on another planet. The Obama healthcare debockle is over. If in the unlikely event that some of ot passes, there will not be another democrat elected to office in 20 years.

    August 27, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  19. I'll make 'em famous

    Everything seems to happen for a reason, ...this 44th Prez has all his work cut out for him.

    As the song goes, you cant stop this

    August 27, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  20. Dave

    Won't happen. All of America mourns the loss of the great and respected Senator but his death will not sway anyone THINKING person to have our Government take over our Health Care system and that is exactly what a Government Option would do.

    Now if we can just focus on providing assistance to folks who can't afford Health Inurance, not allow Insurance companies to deny coverage or drop people with pre-existing conditions, and provide the same tax breaks to people who buy Health Insurance by themselves or in a co-op. EVERYONE agree's with these three actions and this legislation would pass both the House & Senate by a near unaminous vote.

    August 27, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  21. Jimmy the Greek

    "Never waste a good crisis"

    How inspiring – democrats exploiting the death of a liberal senator to push through government-controlled healthcare.

    Let's not even CONSIDER if the Government forcing everyone to buy insurance is Consitutional or not. No – let's just ram it through without anyone knowing what the FINAL bill reads or the REAL costs!!!

    August 27, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  22. shmeckel

    We are a nation of tools, sheep, and idiots, whatever. Our government, not including what private companies or individuals pay, I mean just government. Our government pays more per person for health care per year ($3074) than Canada ($2754) and UK ($2939). Now Politian’s want us to pay about $500 more per person per year to fix our system. Then they say insurance companies are the bad guys.

    Talk about being chump #1. Well democrats and republicans how bout we stand together, demand national health care like UK and Canada, and not pay a penny more (I think we can agree on that). If the politicians say no it is impossible, we try them for treason and hang um hi.

    We have 10x the population of Canada and 5x that of UK. We should have 10x the buying power. It makes absolutely no sense. In the mean time the government has us fighting amongst ourselves. MAN, ARE WE DUMB.

    August 27, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  23. MJ - San Antonio, TX

    I am not for any kind of health care reform that is run by our inept government. Congress is the worst its ever been, no one trusts them so we need to make sure Pelosi, Reid, Shumer, etc are not re-elected.

    August 27, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  24. db

    I honestly don't think Senate Democrats are so drunk with power that they would pass , on a simple majority, legislation that the majority of Americans oppose. But I'll bet the Republicans are hoping that they are.

    August 27, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. carrie

    God works in mysterious ways , perhaps this is the reason he was taken and will be his legeacy in years to come. Something needs to bring people to their senses. All these hate filled meetings surely have sadden the heavens...they are not what God would want his people to be engaged in.
    Ted kennedy did so much good , this must be God's way of showing his enemies for what they have become.

    August 27, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
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