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Good Manners and the United States Senate

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The Massachusetts Senate seems likely to follow the House and approve legislation appointing a replacement for Ted Kennedy, but they're not comfortable with it. It makes them feel dirty. After all, in 2004, when John Kerry was running for president, they worried that Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican -- or himself -- to fill the seat, and passed legislation to ensure all open Senate seats are filled by special election. Now that Kennedy has died and the next five months seem crucial for health-care reform, they want to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim replacement until the special election is held. Reversing course seems like the rawest form of partisanship.

But this vote could be the difference between finally achieving the thing that Ted Kennedy said he went to Washington to do, and failing once again. In light of that, Kevin Drum retorts, "do you think the Texas legislature would hesitate even a few hours to do the same thing in reverse? Or any other Republican state legislature?"

The broader point is that we don't need to be here. There's no law that Republicans have to press their advantage in the wake of Kennedy's death and mount a filibuster of health-care reform. If one of Ted Kennedy's many Republican friends in the Senate announced that he could not support a filibuster if 59 Democrats voted to move forward, as that would just be ghoulishly taking advantage of Sen.Kennedy's passing and would also void the will of the voters, who elected 60 Democrats that would be that. Massachusetts could relax and wait for the special election, content in the knowledge that Kennedy's absence would not thwart health reform.

If I were a Massachusetts Senator, I'd remember that fact next time I felt a pang of conscience about replacing Kennedy.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 18, 2009; 5:55 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

It is the rawest form of partisanship and if you are honest with yourself and the Republicans were pulling this nonsense you would be livid. Stop spending so much time trying to convince yourself that this is the right thing to do admit that you are being a hypocrite and move on.

Posted by: kingstu01 | September 18, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

The "rawest form of partisanship"? Oh my! Somebody get the smelling salts!

Posted by: JEinATL | September 18, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Outside of all the partisan overtones, I find this encouraging in that it's a legislative body promoting its authority. There's been too much waffling among legislative bodies and too much power concentrated in executives.

The anger with Congress is exactly about an ineffective Legislative branch. If this move helps it move forward, then what the heck.

Posted by: Jaycal | September 18, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

In fairness, the voters elected 59 Democrats. Arlen Specter switched parties.

Posted by: NicholasBeaudrot | September 18, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

what kevin drum needs to realize is that (to the best of my knowledge) no republican govenor or legislator has done it, although now they'll be more likely to since the Democrats are stooping to this level.

I'll be fine with him replacing Kennedy (as long as its with Mitt Romney).

It really seems like every time you mention this Ezra you're trying to justify something that you know is wrong.

If the Republican's had a similar majority and tax cuts for the wealthy were in danger of not passing due to a filibuster and Senator McCain had just passed away and Gov Brewer had to change a similar law the liberal Democrats would be screaming from the rooftops.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 18, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Today the Journal of Health published a Harvard Research Project with findings that 45,000 Americans lose their lives annually because of lack of health insurance.
http://baltimore.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2009/09/14/daily65.html

Does the GOP have an ounce of conscience about this? Not on your life, or mine? And today Mike Huckabee at the "Values" conference said that providing health insurance to more uninsured would "only encourage them in their unhealthy lifestyle."

Well their unhealthy lifestyle seems to include not having access to health care services, leading to death.

Does the GOP have a conscience about anything?? They care only about trying to make 1994 happen all over again.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | September 18, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

As much as I agree with the sentiment, the argument is false. It's not any Republican's duty to vote how Ted Kennedy would have just because he died. There were equally 40 Republican Senators elected to this Congress. That doesn't require them to vote against cloture on any given Democratic bill (particularly this one), but should they choose to break ranks, it should be a result of their conscience and what they think is best for the country and their state, not a sense of nonexistent duty to stand in for Ted Kennedy. The brute fact is that his death is depriving Massachusetts of a vote in the U.S. Senate as a result of its own legislature's poor foresight. Massachusetts need to come to terms with that and either change the law and feel dirty if they must, or else not and go without representation. I know the choice I would make.

Posted by: michaeljamesdrew | September 19, 2009 12:41 AM | Report abuse

This is why I like the idea of naming this health care reform after Kennedy. It makes people feel dirty. Which it should.

Posted by: bmull | September 19, 2009 5:58 AM | Report abuse

Two words: nuclear option. If the 59 Democrats think filibustering health care is so bad, they can just change the rules to remove the filibuster. The Republicans may turn red in the face calling such a move Nazism but it would still stand up and a good health care reform bill would pass with a simple majority. Or the Democrats can just pass the thing through reconciliation. The Democrats have the votes and the process on their side to get this thing done. The only question is do they really want to.

Posted by: redwards95 | September 19, 2009 6:38 AM | Report abuse

Enough of the hand wringing and soul searching by Dems. Enough of the "holier than Thou" utterances from Repubs. I beg to disagree with Kevin Drum in only 1 regard--he suggests Repubs wouldn't hesitate for even a few HOURS. Ha! They wouldn't hesitate even a few MINUTES if the situation was reversed and they could quickly appoint a Repub to the Senate. There's overwhelming factual evidence proving the current REpub leadership that controls the current Repub Party will do whatever it takes to win and to obstruct the Dem majority that was ELECTED by voters. If the Repub Party leadership was as rational and responsible as Snowe and Collins, then they'd have some legitimate moral and ethical grounds on which to object.

Posted by: zippyzeph | September 19, 2009 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Healthcare was one of Kennedy's signature concerns for decades and it would be foolish and disrespectful not to get somebody in there immediately to vote the way he would have. If it's legal and they do it, it's done.

No doubt the anti-health spinmeisters are already preparing their faux moral outrage for the week's propaganda shows. Listen to hear if any of them mentions "Bush v. Gore." Or "coverage rescission."

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | September 19, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I think it's worth noting that this isn't an example of "reversing course." Ultimately, a special election will still decide who sits in Kennedy's seat until 2012.

Posted by: eleander | September 19, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

"But this vote could be the difference between finally achieving the thing that Ted Kennedy said he went to Washington to do, and failing once again."

Translation: The end justifies the means.

Kennedy was a drunken pig who literally got away with murder. I'm no more willing to enslave myself to his foolish socialist legacy than I was to enlave myself to it when he was alive and pickling.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | September 19, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

"I'm no more willing to enslave myself to his foolish socialist legacy than I was to enlave myself to it when he was alive and pickling."

Let me help you pack your bags. Somalia awaits!

Posted by: callingalltoasters | September 19, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

eleander,

if this won't change anything then why the rush? And for those justifying themselves by saying that the Republicans would do it anyway, they may, but they haven't. At this point, its the Democrats muddying themselves to scrape together enough votes to shove this through. Its over-reaching like that which keeps the Democrats in power for such a short time each time they regain power. The same over-reaching that removed the Republican's from power that they held for many years. Its centrists that truly understand how to govern. Changing a law like this, is definitely not centrist and you can try to justify it all you want, but the fact that you each (and ezra) need to keep bringing it up, makes you all realize how wrong it is.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 19, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Just because the Republicans would do it doesn't mean Democrats should. We must totally be pure, deferring to the minority, endlessly pursuing bipartisanship, consequences be damned!

Posted by: AZProgressive | September 19, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

"Translation: The end justifies the means."

I thought that was one of your guiding principles, galtard?

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 19, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Yea, Ezra, sure, trust the Republicans to show some class.

Posted by: impikk | September 19, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I'd understand the anger more if Democrats were switching from the right policy position to the wrong one. But it seems petty clear to me that they did that back when they changed the law in 2004, so that was the more appropriate time for anger. Now they want to go back to the right position. Even though it's for political purposes, shouldn't the appropriate Republican response be "Good that you've recognized that we were right all along" instead of "you're playing politics, so we will too by supporting keeping the law the way it is even though it's a bad policy"?

It seems pretty clear to me that the best way of handling a Senate vacancy is with a temporary appointment followed by a swift election (I wish we had had that in New York). Yes, Democrats have been playing politics. But Republicans have put themselves on the wrong side of the substantive issue--which is also playing politics.

Posted by: dasimon | September 20, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

dasimon,

so in a couple of years if a Republican is again in the govenor's seat and the issue comes up again and the state legislature is afraid of it happening again and changes it back then what will the excuse be? maybe they should just change the law that only a democrat can be a senator from Mass. Maybe that'll keep you all happy.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 20, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr:

If the Democrats do that, then it will be raw politics, and Republicans will be justified in opposing it because it's the wrong policy position. But that's not what's going on right now: we have one party switching to the right position, for whatever reasons, and the party that held that position now abandoning it.

I don't think taking the wrong policy position is excusable just because the other party may be playing politics. What do you think?

Posted by: dasimon | September 21, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

dasimon,


exactly what power do you think Republicans have in Mass and how are THEY playing politics? I'm no scholar on Mass but I read somewhere that they have 5 state senators that are Republicans. That's it. They have no power to do anything. You can doubletalk your way through "it was wrong before and now its right", but no matter what you say its Democrats over-reaching and Americans will all see it that way and it will go a long way towards (if it gets its due in the national press) making sure independents vote for Republicans in the upcoming 2010 elections.

It doesn't matter that its for something as crucial as health reform that all Americans want in one shape or form. They'll see it as a takeover of the political process to suit an individual party's wants and needs and that's exactly what it is.

The ends cannot justify the means.

As far as my opinion on it there should be a law in every state that if someone leaves office for any reason that someone from that same political party should be appointed immediately and a special election should ensue as soon as possible. So yes, I agree with your position but I'm disgusted with how Democrats got there.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 21, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

visionbrkr: "exactly what power do you think Republicans have in Mass and how are THEY playing politics?

Well, if you say that MA Republicans can't "play politics" because they're in the minority, then wouldn't that excuse every minority party from whatever policy or rhetorical position it took?

As I wrote, they're playing politics by switching their policy position simply because the other party switched theirs. And they're switching from the right policy position to the wrong one, which makes it all the worse.

I don't endorse how MA Democrats got to where they are either, but to me it's now the right position. The problem was when they changed the law in 2004. If they change it again if there's a Republican governor, then I'd be angrier about the situation.

A temporary same-party appointment is, I believe the law in at least some states. The same-party requirement may be a good idea to preserve party status quo pending the "will of the people"--though there's no guarantee that same party equals voting with the party. On the other hand, even an opposing party appointment would be very short-term, so it may not be that important. (If the seat may be the deciding vote, there are few issues that can't wait a few months until the election can be held.)

"They'll see it as a takeover of the political process to suit an individual party's wants and needs and that's exactly what it is."

In part. But it happens to be, as I've written repeatedly and as you seem to agree, the right policy position.

Posted by: dasimon | September 21, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

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