Thursday, August 27, 2009
This piece is part 1 of a 2 part collaborative reaction to Senator Edward Kennedy's recent passing and the possible effect it will have on the health care debate. This piece takes a critical and pessimistic view. For a more optimistic view, check out Ellipses' companion piece, immediately following this one (to be posted later today or tomorrow).
In the weeks preceding his death, Teddy Kennedy pressed hard for a change to the Massachusetts state law which requires that a special election be held to fill a vacant Senate seat between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy, but does not allow one sooner. Kennedy clearly knew his time was up and he must have also realized that health care legislation might very well depend on the vote his seat carried. Now that he has passed, there is strong support for the law to be passed, but considering the speed at which the legislature operates, it probably won't be passed until pretty close to the above deadline anyway. There's no telling what happens to the health care bill in that time, but it probably won't be good.
The sad thing is this law shouldn't be on the books to begin with. As NPR reminds us in this story, the law in place now is quite young; it was enacted in 2004 when John Kerry was running for President. At that time, the governor could appoint a new Senator to a vacant seat as soon as it was vacant, but the governor then was Mitt Romney, a Republican. The democratic state congress quickly pushed for the new law so that the voters would fill the seat, not the GOP. And so in an ultimately futile act of partisan politics, the Democrats did something that has come back to bite them and all of us in the ass.
In all honesty, I don't like the law that they had at the time either; Romney would have been able to appoint someone for the remainder of Kerry's term if I understand it correctly and Senators should never be appointed. Kennedy's suggestion was simply that the governor would appoint a temporary replacement that would be ousted by the above mentioned special election as they would not be able to run in it. That law is better than both the current one and the preceding one and should be in place. But instead partisanship drove the Mass congress to replace one bad rule with another. This new law should be in place now and in the foreseeable future, but its probably going to be too late to help us now. I'll cross my fingers that the gravity of the situation inspires some quick legislation; regardless of party affiliation, now is not the time to have a vacant seat in the Senate.
But the immediate concern is the health care situation. This debate seems to be setting new records for potency of contentiousness on a daily basis. When congress gets back in the capitol and gets to work on it again, that missing vote is going to potentially make the difference between improvement in health care and stagnation in an embarrassing state of pseudorespectable coverage. The arguments made in favor of the reform and the level of humiliation we suffer as lesser nations laugh at our health care ineptitude has had no effect on the neoconservative politically motivated stonewalling of the most important piece of social legislation of the decade at least, if not since the New Deal. There was perhaps one good trump card left in the Democratic deck, and I'm not just talking about the seat now but the man who occupied it. Teddy Kennedy, known in political circles for his ability to befriend his enemies and gain support across the aisle, was easily the most important voice in favor of reform. Now that he's died, the hope for a positive outcome to this debacle may have died with him. Sphere: Related Content