Health care: the Kennedy syndrome

Will Obama’s reform bill be named after the late senator?

Health care: the Kennedy syndromeTed Kennedy’s signature issue was health care, but no one seems to know how his death will affect the future of his dream: the creation of a universal health care system in the U.S. Still, there’s one obvious way in which it hurts his cause: the Democrats need 60 votes to break a filibuster, and now they only have 59. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, can’t appoint a replacement due to a 2004 state law passed to curb the power of then-governor Mitt Romney. The law, which the dying Kennedy tried unsuccessfully to have changed, may give Republicans veto power over legislation until Jan. 19, when a special election will be held to fill Kennedy’s seat.

But Democrats may try to use Kennedy’s name and reputation to make the case for health care reform. Sen. Robert Byrd immediately called for the eventual bill to be named after Kennedy. Some commentators argue that the liberal affection for Kennedy will give the pro-reform side a passion it didn’t previously have, and shame Republicans out of opposing a bill. Noam Scheiber of the New Republic wrote that “it would be suicidal for the GOP to filibuster the culmination of the last Kennedy brother’s lifelong crusade.” Other pundits responded that nothing will stop the GOP from filibustering anything.

Besides, the Republicans will counter this strategy with a Kennedy-based talking point of their own. John Mercurio wrote in the National Journal that the GOP is “using Kennedy as a convenient foil. If only he had been here, they say, Kennedy would have used his magic touch to reach a meaningful compromise.” Kennedy’s friend John McCain has already said that Kennedy would have made “the right concessions” to Republicans. In other words, if Republicans block a health care bill, it will be Ted Kennedy’s fault for dying at the wrong time.

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