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. J.P.

    "...to do one for Teddy."

    Yes, let us economically enslave future generations of Americans whose own grandparents haven't even been born yet... all for the purpose of canonizing one senator whose memory will be long gone and forgotten by the time those future generations are even born.

    Enacting government-run medical care is a bad idea on it's own merits.

    Enacting government-run medical care in memory of the political causes of one dead politician simply adds insult to injury.

    August 27, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  2. Gary

    Serious malpractice reform!
    Train more doctors/nurses/physical therapists.
    shorten the patent life on new medications by 2 years.
    Make it illegal to exclude preconditions.
    Change the tax law to encourage companies to provide the best insurance that they can.
    Change the tax law to encourage individuals to get health insurance.
    Immigration reform.
    Stop giving free stuff (housing/food/healthcare) to lazy people who refuse to work – – WORK MUST BE MANDITORY TO PARTICIPATE IN ANY HEALTHCARE!!!!!

    NO PUBLIC OPTION! NO SOCIALIZED MEDICINE! NO NEW TAXES!!

    August 27, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  3. Scott, Tucson

    Yeah I want the kind of health care plan that Ted Kennedy had but not that crap Obama and his democrats are trying to cram down our throats which we would be monitored by the IRS! Kennedycare not Obamacare.

    August 27, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  4. jgoat

    iam from the ol school..... and the young folks , i wander if they realize that the history of the kennedy's . part of their mantel was to give back in service to all humankind......... sen. ted kennedy has set sail now to a better place where there is no left or right, no pain or suffering. just peace , every living peace with god . blessed are the peace makers..... and also the unselfish,,, when i hear that song "sailing" by christopher cross i'll think of him and his brothers and his family up there. whom iam sure by now he has met up with.

    August 27, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  5. Artie

    You fervently wish! The assertion is liberal pro musing!

    August 27, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  6. Johnny DC

    Any Congressman or Senator who changes his vote on health reform due to the passing of Senator Kennedy is making a mockery of our legislative system.

    You are put in place to speak for your constituents. Plain and simple. You arne't there to sympathize with the troubles of another state, or to reminisce about the good times had with a colleague who passed away.

    Your job description does not change. If something was a bad idea for the people who put their trust in you before, it is still a bad idea.

    August 27, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  7. carlo

    The GOP is already gearing up for accusing the Democrats of playing politics with Kennedy's death if they mention healthcare, when Kennedy himself was trying to do everything he could to ensure that a vote could be cast for him. Healthcare was Kennedy's biggest passion, and they bloody well know it.

    August 27, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  8. norb

    To all those people who have health insurance and don't think everyone should I say this: You don't miss your water till your well runs dry.

    August 27, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  9. Four and The Door

    The fact is, the Republican party is more interested than the Democrats in seeing actual reform of the health care system. The Democrats just want to make it bigger and run by the government. The Republican proposals are to actually reform it; reduce costs with greater efficiencies and increase quality through more effective competition. Once the government is running health care the only incentive to increase quality is 60 Minutes and The Wall Street Journal!

    August 27, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  10. Paul from Phoenix

    Good. Lets ram through a terrible bill as one last pat on the back to the good ol boys network.

    I have a better idea. How about after EVERY member of congress and the President has actually read the ENTIRE bill, then we can put it up to a vote.

    Having an ignorant public is a dangerous thing. However, it is not nearly as dangerous as an ignorant Congress and President passing bills that they don't read.

    August 27, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  11. T Mckinley

    One of the biggest obstacles to seeing health care reform passed are the many angry, white holdovers from the pre-civil rights era who oppose Barack Obama being President on the grounds that he is black.

    It was couragous men like Senator Kennedy who championed civil rights helped make the Obama Presidency a possibility. Now we are facing yet another civil rights issue (Universal Healthcare), that is being opposed by the very same people who opposed the Civil Rights Act of the 1960's.

    All we can hope for is that Senator Kenedy's death will help move THIS civil rights issue forward.

    August 27, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  12. JDM

    After reading, or seeing Mr Kennedy long history of law making in the last 40 years, It is up to the Dem to get a bill or lose it. The Rep do not have to do anything but sit back and watch the Dem blow up from with in. The dream die with him. The Pres. dosen't have the juice to get a reform bill.

    August 27, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  13. elliott

    Just like knee-jerk libs to vote on their emotions.
    The health scare bill sucks just as bad....but now they are going to use Teddy's death to try to ram it through.....oh you silly libs...wake up and learn how to think...not just "feel"........*yawn*

    August 27, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  14. LiLa

    As much as I'd like to see meaningful health care reform passed, to do it for Senator Kennedy would be passing it for the wrong reason. However, a true bipartisan effort to kraft the best possible health care bill for Americans would be the ultimate honor for someone who championed health care reform for most of his professional life.

    August 27, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  15. stranger in an increasingly strange land

    It would be a fitting capstone to Teddy Kennedy's long carreer to have his death help pass his long held dream. Health care for all Americans

    "The Lion sleeps tonight"

    August 27, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  16. John from Canada

    Name it the Teddy Kennedy Health Bill and then have a vote on it, I betvery few would vote against it.

    August 27, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. JD

    With any luck, the 0bamacare "reform" (a misnomer if ever there was one) died with the late Senator Kennedy.

    The last thing this nation needs is another bloated waste of a bureaucracy to which these senators will never be subject. Suffice it to say that if Kennedy had been under a type of health care plan like 0bama proposes, he'd have been dead MONTHS ago.

    August 27, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. mattie

    oh good, I really want people burdening us with debt for generations to come, as a favor to someone. That sounds like a great idea.

    August 27, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  19. Joshua College Station Texas

    The simple question about health care legislation is:

    Within this nation, are we willing as a body of 'haves' to shoulder the financial burden of providing service to the 'have-nots', despite the realities that some of those have-nots have brought their condition upon themselves, and the tremendous cost involved?

    I would argue that for the sake of those who are not lazy and irresponsible and who have simply received an ill lot in life, we should do it. Hopefully that represents a majority of the uninsured, but it really doesn't matter. No doubt many well-insured folks are lazy, irresponsible, dishonest, or just lucky.

    "Socializing" health care ought not to be the issue. The issue ought to be about extending affordable basic health care to all members of our society. If along the way we can trim the excess, improve efficiency, streamline services, and discipline the rulebreakers and greedy providers that abuse the system, then we will be so much better served.

    Rejecting the poor and wanting by denying them health care because of cost, or idealism about democracy, is just selfish.

    August 27, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. Rick

    What an appropriate last contribution it would be if the shameless democrats renamed this hideous bill the KennedyCare bill and rammed it home without republican nor the general public's support. So old Ted's lasting gift would be the resounding defeat of democrats nationwide in the next several elections.

    August 27, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  21. Axl in Iowa

    Gimme a break. Totally UNcool.

    August 27, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  22. Melissa

    I hope so but I doubt it. Republicans will do everything they can, including lying through their teeth and twisting the truth until it no longer resembles fact, to stop the bill from going through. They are more concerned with money than they are with their own people.

    August 27, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  23. Kim-SC

    This article is ridiculous! Ted Kennedy's passing should be honored for those who are so inclinded but the health care bills currently circulating have nothing to do with his death.

    Should any politician stand up and say I was against the health care bill but to honor Mr. Kennedy I am going to vote for passage ends their own career. American people are not for or against a bill because of the politicians supporting it; they are for or against it due to their own circumstance.

    August 27, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  24. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Yes, let's nationalize one-sixth of the economy as a tribute to the late Sen. Kennedy.

    August 27, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  25. Jacqueline

    I hope not...at least not O'Bama's and the Democrats Healthcare Reform.

    August 27, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
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