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They Might Be Giants -- Or They Might Not Be

The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib laments "the absence on the front lines of four big personalities -- Rep. John Dingell, Sen. Ted Kennedy, former Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. John McCain -- that helps explain why Congress and the Obama administration are having such a hard time getting something done."

You hear this occasionally. But I'm not convinced. Dingell, Kennedy, Daschle and McCain were all around in 1994, and there was no deal, nor anything close to it. Kennedy, Dingell and McCain were also around for the 2007 effort at comprehensive immigration reform. One of the main bills, in fact, was co-sponsored by Kennedy and McCain. But there was no deal, nor anything close to it.

I don't want to go so far as saying that legislators don't matter. Henry Waxman, for instance, has achieved much that would never have occurred in his absence. But they aren't miracle workers. There are essentially zero examples in recent years of a legislator's charisma or personal relationships convincing his colleagues to abandon partisan pressures or special interests or ideological commitments on a major bill. And maybe that's as it should be: It's not clear that being buddies with John Dingell is an excellent reason to vote to overhaul the U.S. health-care system.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 28, 2009; 12:08 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Comments

Not to be disrespectful of the old leadership, but the last election was about change. Even though the new players aren't exactly new, they do represent change.

Posted by: RedBird27 | July 28, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse


True, but you did see strength of personality (help) bring about reform at the state level. Remember that Mitt Romney and Ted Kennedy stood onstage together and shook hands as Massachusetts' reform was passed.

Sure, that was during Mitt's centrist days, but the point is still valid. If Mitt could reconnect with his fleeting centrist, he'd be a good non-congress GOP leader of health reform and it's sort of odd he hasn't been cast as such.

Posted by: ThomasEN | July 28, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"Dingell, Kennedy, Daschle and McCain were all around in 1994, and there was no deal, nor anything close to it."

True, but Congress was largely cut out of the process in 1994.

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 28, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

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