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Ted Kennedy's Vote

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Any reconciliation-oriented strategy you can think of is predicated on the Democrats having 60 votes. In fact, any really good outcome you can think of is predicated on the Democrats having 60 votes. Happily, the Democrats do have 60 votes. At least in theory.

In reality, Ted Kennedy is very sick, and may well have to relinquish his seat. For Democrats, that poses a particular problem: Under Massachusetts law, an unexpected vacancy takes at least 145 days to fill. It would be viciously ironic for Kennedy's death to deprive Democrats of the final voice they needed to make good on the work of Kennedy's life, and so he has sent a letter to the governor of Massachusetts and the leaders of the legislature asking them to change the law so there is an interim senator who represents Massachusetts between the vacancy and the special election. This interim senator, Kennedy says, should be someone who has made a commitment not to run in the special election.

It's unclear whether the governor and the leadership will act on Kennedy's request. But this could be the difference between the 60 votes that could pass health-care reform and the 59 that can't.

That said, this is also the place where the rubber hits the road on all that talk about Senate civility and courtliness and respect. If the Massachusetts political order doesn't move to preserve Kennedy's voice, surely there is some Republican who will agree to trade his vote for cloture with Ted Kennedy. That is to say, where Kennedy's great friend Orrin Hatch would have voted to uphold a filibuster, now he will vote to shut it down, as that's how the vote would have gone if Ted Kennedy were still alive, and it is neither decent nor small-d democratic to doom health care because the bill's greatest advocate contracted incurable brain cancer.

Such a trade would not only be a grand show of respect for Kennedy's life work, but it would uphold the outcome that Americans chose when they voted 60 Democrats into office in 2008. Conversely, if not one Republican can be found who feels enough loyalty to Kennedy to make sure that his death doesn't kill the work of his life, then what are all those personal relationships and all that gentility really worth?

Update: Matt Yglesias notes that Hatch has actually addressed Kennedy's situation directly and chose to take the opportunity to argue that "a single-payer system that basically is going to cost an arm and a leg and won’t do the job anyway." So much for that longtime relationship.

Photo credit: Charles Dharapak — Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  August 20, 2009; 11:25 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

That said, this is also the place where the rubber hits the road on all that talk about Senate civility and courtliness and respect. If the Massachusetts political order doesn't move to preserve Kennedy's voice, surely there is some Republican who will agree to trade his vote for cloture with Ted Kennedy

Very droll

Posted by: fuse | August 20, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps out of love and respect for Ted Kennedy. If the bill is split into the parts that has concensus even among Republicans and the nonconcensus part, many Republicans would actually vote for that part. I could actually see that portion getting 70 plus votes if Kennedy appealed to his friends across the aisle.

Posted by: maritza1 | August 20, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

You are mixing two things. Politics does not work that way, nor should it.

I love and respect Ted. But his life's worth of work is not equal to passing of a single bill. What Ted taught is far more important - how do you cherish your ideals in adverse situation and keep working for those for decades.

If his vote deprives the necessary count for the bill, so be the case. We will fight back and try again.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 20, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Don't you think there's already enough stupidity in the Kennedy legacy? Shouldn't we spare the delusional old fool yet another historic mistake?

Our democracy is designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. 51% of Americans do not have the right to force an Orwellian Ministry of Health upon us all.

And it is not wrong to characterize the Democratic efforts as a push toward a single payer system. That is clearly their intent even if they're not being honest about it for political reasons.

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | August 20, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I was sick of all the "my friend" talk in the Senate decades ago. It is an illusion. Other than possibly Hatch, I think we'd find no other friend on the GOP side that would pair his vote (not vote) because of the honor and civility of the Senate - and Hatch is by no means a sure thing. Any GOPer (other than Snow) that votes to end a health care filibuster will be in the sights (probably, quite literally) of the wingnut right. Even Snow might have to change to independent or Dem. to vote Yes on the filibuster rollcall to end debate.

My guess is that the MA legislature will follow Ted's request quite promptly, avoiding this moral test in the Senate. Anybody who would count on moral behavior in the US Senate in this decade should probably be committed to the tender mercies of Nurse Ratchet.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 20, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that Snowe's and Collins' votes shouldn't be any harder to get than Nelson's, Bayh's, Landrieu's, and Lieberman's. A bill that Ben Nelson will vote for cloture on is more than likely going to be one Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will support too making Kennedy's vote or a trade unnecessary. It's also a certainty that no conservative Republican is going to trade votes with Ted Kennedy to pass health care reform. Civility in Congress died 16 years ago.

Posted by: redwards95 | August 20, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Our Ezra, always good for a laugh. When was the last time a personal relationship trumped republican party discipline?

Posted by: paul314 | August 20, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

fallsmeade: Our democracy is designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. 51% of Americans do not have the right to force an Orwellian Ministry of Health upon us all.

But I bet you think it was just right and fine that GW Bush 'won' in 2000 with less than 51% of the vote and he should be commended for acting as if he had 60% in declaring the Iraq War, setting aside our non-torture policy, spying illegally on US citizens, and cutting taxes while increasing expenses (Iraq War!, and More!), wiping out the budget surplus.

What a tool!

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 20, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, that's real noble Teddy, but if you are so concerned, why didn't you resign months ago so that a successor could be in place by now.

For those who don't know, this law he wants to repeal is fairly recent. It was put in place to deny a REPUBLICAN governor, Mitt Romney, from appointing a Senator in the unlikely event sitting Mass. Senator John Kerry has won the presidency.

Politics is politics, and the Dems can play politics with these kinds of laws, but spare me the "noble gesture" crap. Does anyone suppose a Democrat would have given up there vote on a critical bill for Strom Thurmond? Give me a small break.

Teddy is a despicable human being, guilty of de facto manslaughter, and he's never had to pay for it other than with the public censure of responsible people. Let's continue that with ignoring this buffoon in his last grasp for the power he thinks he deserves as a hereditary right.

Posted by: docweasel | August 20, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

[firmly affixing my tinfoil hat to my head].

The Sen. GOP minority has known of Ted's medical problems for quite some time. Why shouldn't we think they have been delaying the healthcare debate hoping that Ted would join the departed before a later vote? Hey, what's the rush? How about Feb. 2010?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 20, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

*Our democracy is designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. *

This is why the senate is structure the way it is where each state has equal representation. The Republicans could not even handle coming anywhere close to a majority and in fact only managed 60 seats in a system where even the smallest states got equal representation. We already have a system where minority interests were represented: and that system voted and determined the minority interests weren't important enough to give them a strong position in the senate.

What kind of funny is how demanding the losers are. When you set up a system to give the minority a natural advantage, and then even within that system, the minority *still loses* with all those advantages, they demand more and more. Sorry.

That said, this system also means that senators don't vote merely based on party demands or constituent demands. It means that certain procedural votes are taken based on mutual comity and respect for "what would have happened" or to satisfy some procedural requirement. it's why senate majority leaders often vote against cloture on their own party's bills or why some people will vote for cloture but against the actual bill.

Posted by: constans | August 20, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

The republicans only manage 40 seats, obviously, I meant to say.

Posted by: constans | August 20, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, that's real noble Teddy, but if you are so concerned, why didn't you resign months ago so that a successor could be in place by now.

For those who don't know, this law he wants to repeal is fairly recent. It was put in place to deny a REPUBLICAN governor, Mitt Romney, from appointing a Senator in the unlikely event sitting Mass. Senator John Kerry has won the presidency.

Politics is politics, and the Dems can play politics with these kinds of laws, but spare me the "noble gesture" crap. Does anyone suppose a Democrat would have given up there vote on a critical bill for Strom Thurmond? Give me a small break.

Teddy is a despicable human being, guilty of de facto manslaughter, and he's never had to pay for it other than with the public censure of responsible people. Let's continue that with ignoring this buffoon in his last grasp for the power he thinks he deserves as a hereditary right.

Posted by: docweasel | August 20, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

The point is that Kennedy's illness gives Baucus and Nelson cover - they can say "they're aren't the votes." Unless Baucus and Nelson are committed to voting for cloture, then Hatch doesn't have to trade his vote. But Baucus and Nelson won't commit either way, and Reid won't call the vote, and the thing will fail. Hatch will never be put to the test.

Posted by: Bloix | August 20, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Is the Massachusetts legislature in session now? If yes, its a done deal, the law will be changed, and either his wife (if she doesn't want the seat permanently) or perhaps his newphew (if ditto) will be appointed. If they are not in session, I can't see them calling a special session for this, especially since Patrict (governor) is in political trouble anyway right now.

Posted by: exgovgirl | August 20, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

51% of Americans do not have the right to force an Orwellian Ministry of Health upon us all.

In reality, Orwell (who had firsthand experience of being hospitalized for extended periods) was a strong advocate of radical reforms to the WWII-era British health care system. In fact, Orwell felt that the National Health Service, which went much further than the Democrats' current proposals, didn't go far enough in addressing systemic issues.

Posted by: andrewlevine | August 20, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

(That first paragraph is quote from fallsmeadjc above, and the second is my rebuttal)

Posted by: andrewlevine | August 20, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

If this were to actually happen (which I doubt), it would just show how crazy an institution the Senate really is.

The Republicans have been loudly proclaiming that this bill will lead to dead grandmas. Is Orrin Hatch going to vote for a bill he claims will kill grandma just because he's friends with Ted Kennedy? Do personal relationships really count for more than life-and-death policy issues?

What if the shoe was on the other foot? Would we really want a Democrat to desert a filibuster opposing, say, Social Security privatization because a Republican senator was dying?

Posted by: tyronen | August 20, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

This health care reform effort is just as stupid as the Iraq war and the Government is pushing it with the same level of honesty. Haven't you noticed the similarity between the way they seek to characterize health reform protesters and the way Bush sought to characterize Iraq war protesters? Both Admininstations single out the craziest people they can find at the protests and try to make them representatives of the effort as a whole. This is a classic propaganda technique and if you don't recognize the Democrats use of it then you are a hack.

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | August 20, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

"What if the shoe was on the other foot? Would we really want a Democrat to desert a filibuster opposing, say, Social Security privatization because a Republican senator was dying?"

Well, since I don't think there should be a filibuster at all, I wouldn't really have a problem with it.

Posted by: JEinATL | August 20, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

fallsmeadjc: in this case, the craziest people we can find are the 2008 Republican VP nominee, the former speaker of the House, and the Republican Senator from Iowa. I don't think that's cherry-picking at all: it's just looking at what the party leadership is doing, and I don't think it reflects well at all on the other side, who's just flailing around trying to oppose ANY changes at all.

Posted by: constans | August 20, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

To those of you saying Ezra is being idealistic or that politics don't work that way, it can.

The Canadian House of Commons has a long tradition of exactly this kind of courteous vote pairing on very important bills, and among people with deep ideological differences. I remember, in the past few years, socialists, and liberals pairing their votes with sick Conservative MPs, and a Conservative MP pairing his vote with a Québec separatist. Hell, in 2005, on a confidence motion to decide if the Liberal government would fall or remain in power, a Liberal gave up vote because he was paired with a sick Conservative even while it was unclear if the government would survive or not. The government ended up surviving on a 152-152 vote.

Politics don't have to be as acrimonious as they are in the US.

Posted by: oxyfrog | August 20, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"Such a trade would not only be a grand show of respect for Kennedy's life work, but it would uphold the outcome that Americans chose when they voted 60 Democrats into office in 2008. Conversely, if not one Republican can be found who feels enough loyalty to Kennedy to make sure that his death doesn't kill the work of his life, then what are all those personal relationships and all that gentility really worth?"

So, Hatch should vote against his principles and those of his constituents in order to honor a (ostensibly) dead guy? Because Kennedy's voice deserves to be heard even when he can't use it?

On what planet? Who votes for Tip O'Neill? Who votes for Daniel Patrick Moynihan? Hell, who votes for George Mitchell?

Posted by: pmckay2002 | August 20, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

>>51% of Americans do not have the right to force an Orwellian Ministry of Health upon us all. >>

It's always nice to see a dining room table which has learned to type.

Posted by: fuse | August 20, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Deval better appoint himself, he's not getting re-elected.

Posted by: obrier2 | August 20, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Hatch is not and has never been inclined toward "civility" except when it suits him.

The better bets would be Collins and Snow, and maybe the best bet of all would be Lugar, who is not planning on running again.

I would tend to bet that no Democrats would vote to filibuster a health care bill in the end. I look for the Blue Dogs to go for a straddle, voting for cloture on the grounds that it deserves an "up or down" vote, then voting against the bill.

BTW -- the filibuster is not a constitutional issue. It is a Senate rule, and as a rule it has been modified many times.

Posted by: PatS2 | August 20, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein: You are shameless. Surely the public is not so stupid as to fall for your emotional argument which you would discard in a heatbeat if it was to your political advantage.

It reminds me of pro-choicers and litmus tests. When the pro-choicers have a majority in the Senate, they love litmus tests. When pro-lifers have a majority, all of a sudden they argue litmus tests are the worst things in the world.

Feel like a Communist Party member on 1 September 1939 who's now told Hitler's a great guy and then on 22 June 1941 who's told he's a bad guy.

Mr. Klein, sometimes you can be too smart for your own good.

Posted by: dturnerc | August 21, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

As a fairly conservative person, who generally opposes Obamacare, I would be nonetheless gratified to see Hatch vote in lieu of Kennedy if the public option is removed.

Otherwise, the stakes are too great.

Posted by: jvriebeeck | August 21, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Sen. Kennedy should have stepped down earlier. The change he is asking for is a monumental act of vanity and partisanship in a career filled with both.

All of the Dems' plotting to subvert the legislative process (e.g., through utilizing the reconciliation process to pass a bill and now changing the law in MA to preserve the ailing Senator's vote) really puts paid to any idea that Obama was ushering in a new post-partisan age. Sorry to say, he and the Dem leadership are fueling a hyper-partisan age.

Posted by: tbass1 | August 21, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

fallsmeade: Our democracy is designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. 51% of Americans do not have the right to force an Orwellian Ministry of Health upon us all.

But I bet you think it was just right and fine that GW Bush 'won' in 2000 with less than 51% of the vote and he should be commended for acting as if he had 60% in declaring the Iraq War, setting aside our non-torture policy, spying illegally on US citizens, and cutting taxes while increasing expenses (Iraq War!, and More!), wiping out the budget surplus.

What a tool!

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 20, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse


-----------------------------------

i love those of YOU that assume if you have ever voted Republican you're all for the Iraq war. You know we don't vote solely down party lines on all things but I guess anytime in your eyes anyone's ever sided with a Republican they're evil. My God I hope at some point you wake up from your liberal nightmare.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 22, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

What an inanely foolish proposition. Even for you, Ezra.

Posted by: SukieTawdry | August 22, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

Poor Jim in Portland still thinks there was a budget surplus. Sad.

Posted by: SukieTawdry | August 22, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

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