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Is Ted Kennedy the Missing Ingredient?

Speaking to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, John McCain argued that the real hindrance to health-care reform is the absence of Sen. Ted Kennedy. "It's huge that he's absent," McCain said, "not only because of my personal affection for him, but because I think the health-care reform might be in a very different place today."

This stuff just isn't plausible. Kennedy was around in 1994 and there was no deal. More to the point, Kennedy's committee, the HELP Committee, has passed health-care reform. Kennedy's staff, as you might expect, led their effort. But neither Kennedy nor his staff can make the deals for another committee. If Kennedy were in the Senate now, health care would be exactly where it is: Through Ted Kennedy's Committee and stuck in the morass of Max Baucus's Gang of Six.

Meanwhile, if John McCain wants to honor Ted Kennedy, he shouldn't just talk the guy up. He should play a constructive role in passing the legislation that Kennedy considered the cause of his life. McCain says that Kennedy "had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions," but surely McCain can decide what concessions those should be and present them to Max Baucus — or the New York Times — in exchange for his vote.

One of the frustrating elements of the process has been that no Republicans have released a detailed set of concessions that would win their vote. Everyone just professes hopefulness and demands ill-defined "concessions." Or they say they'd vote for health-care reform if everything were different — if Ted Kennedy weren't sick, maybe, or we weren't in a recession. The fact that neither event has much of anything to do with the desirability of health-care reform suggests that they might not actually be the core of the problem.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 24, 2009; 3:42 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

Obviously, any politician who would choose Palin to be one heart beat away if he would have been elected president is terminally cynical, but I'm still amazed that McCain could maintain a straight face while implying that Ted Kennedy might compromise on a public option, which McCain and other Republicans have said is a dealbreaker.

Posted by: newjersey_lawyer | August 24, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

But Kennedy had the trust of the left, so he could excise this public option and lower the total cost fo the plan and the left would still vote for the bill. They would vote for it because Teddy was still for the bill. Nobody else has the trust of the left to be able to close a deal.

Posted by: lancediverson | August 24, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I disagree. Kennedy's presence might not have a direct effect on the process, but it would likely impact the tone and substance of the public debate on the issue, and that does affect the process. He might also convinced Orrin Hatch to stay in the Finance Cmte process. And yes, his staff led the negotiations in HELP, but that doesn't mean it's the same thing as him leading the negotiations. The staff has the substance, but he has the style, and style matters, like when he get Hatch on board with SCHIP. Finally, you can't compare now to 1994 - the Congressional calculus is different. Maybe it would have been even worse without him in '94, and would be slightly better now. There's enough evidence to think so.

Posted by: TransplantedTexan | August 24, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"One of the frustrating elements of the process has been that no Republicans have released a detailed set of concessions that would win their vote."

This is one of the oddities of this whole process. I'm faulting both the White House and Congress jointly for failing to have a list of wants and deal-breakers.

Unsubstantiated items shouldn't be on either list. For example, it's easy to say "we need a public option" -- and even easier to make such an option a topic of argument. But it's harder to say WHY it's needed. Is it needed because we can't otherwise regulate an industry? Is it needed because the corpses of poor people are piling up in the streets? Is it needed because we want to addict a particular voter base to a Government-provided service? What's the underlying REASON?

Posted by: rmgregory | August 24, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Or if Baucus was the tiniest bit like Sen. Mike Mansfield and not like a fearful church mouse.

Posted by: glewiss | August 24, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Maybe we need John McCain to sit both sides down and tell them to "cut the $#@!"? I mean, it worked so well in Iraq....

Posted by: soapdish | August 24, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

"Kennedy's presence might not have a direct effect on the process, but it would likely impact the tone and substance of the public debate on the issue"

Sorry, no. The liars and haters would still have the sole goal of breaking Obama. And there are no concessions that would accomplish anything, although the Dems just can't get that through their rock-hard heads.

Posted by: AZProgressive | August 24, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"Unsubstantiated items shouldn't be on either list. For example, it's easy to say "we need a public option" -- and even easier to make such an option a topic of argument. But it's harder to say WHY it's needed. Is it needed because we can't otherwise regulate an industry? Is it needed because the corpses of poor people are piling up in the streets? Is it needed because we want to addict a particular voter base to a Government-provided service? What's the underlying REASON?"

All of the goals can be accomplished without this. So what is the reason? It's the first step toward single payer but only Barney Frank has the courage to admit it...

Posted by: kingstu01 | August 24, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

"the cause of his life"

If a bill passes, will Ted Kennedy's tombstone read he fought tirelessly for the cause of his life: health insurance for all.
Hmmm. Maybe I'm wrong; I thought he wanted health care for everyone.

Posted by: goadri | August 24, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Kennedy is ready to do his part as a shovel ready project.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | August 25, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

"....to speak for those who have no voice; to remember those who are forgotten; to respond to the frustration and fulfill the aspiration of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land....for all those whose cares have been our concern, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Edward Moore Kennedy, August 12, 1980

The lion is no more.

I'll never forget the night Ted Kennedy gave that speech at the Democratic National Convention after failing to win his party's nomination for the presidency. I was staying in a one-room kitchenette in Liverpool, NY, just outside of Syracuse. It was - and remains - the greatest political oration of my lifetime.

Teddy Kennedy died late last night at the age of seventy-seven. In a life that is littered with ironies, here's the biggest one of all: His three older brothers - Joe, Jack and Bobby - are eternally frozen in our imagination as the personifications of youth. How poignant that our final image of the baby of that family will be as an old man, frail and mortally ill.

This truly is the end of an era, folks.

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Posted by: tomdeganfrontiernetnet | August 26, 2009 3:52 AM | Report abuse

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