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Obama-Kennedy Move Will Reverberate in the Senate

The endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) presidential bid by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is the talk of the campaign trail today.

But Kennedy's political blessing of Obama over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will also have intriguing implications in the Senate in the short term -- as the chamber gears up to tackle the economic stimulus package -- and for the rest of the year if Obama is the Democratic nominee.

The relationship between the two Senators has come a long way since January 2005, when Obama had just been elected and Kennedy said at a National Press Club event: "Why don't we just ask Osama bin -- Osama Obama -- Obama what -- since he won by such a big amount. Seriously, Senator Obama is really unique and special."

Now, they're primed to play a key role in shaping the stimulus bill that will be on the House floor tomorrow and will then move to the Senate. Kennedy has signaled his plan to be a vocal proponent of adding several worker-friendly provisions to the stimulus, and Obama could earn some goodwill with the Democratic base -- which is not thrilled with the current package on the table -- by echoing that call on the hustings.

Last Tuesday, Kennedy made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor calling for the stimulus package to include far more benefits for lower-income families. After the deal was reached, he praised it as an "important first step." But he pledged to fight for amendments "to strengthen this package -- to provide unemployment insurance to workers looking for jobs, and to help families coping with high heating costs and skyrocketing food prices."

Obama is already on record with his own stimulus wish list, and it includes a similar call to "extend and expand unemployment insurance." While Obama has missed plenty of Senate votes as he's been on the campaign trail, it will be interesting to see how hard he works to make it back to D.C. when key stimulus provisions, particularly Kennedy's amendments, come up for a vote.

This same dynamic could continue right through November if Obama is the nominee. Kennedy may be his chamber's most effective Democrat at getting media attention and pushing Senate debates in a more liberal direction, and he will be able to serve as an invaluable Obama surrogate on the Senate floor.

Obama serves on the panel Kennedy chairs -- the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - and the two men have worked on a handful of bills together, particularly on workers' rights and employment safety. You can expect a lot more such partnerships in the Senate as the year goes on.

By Ben Pershing  |  January 28, 2008; 11:53 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Senate  
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