One thing I think to watch out for in the wake of Ted Kennedy’s unfortunate death is Republican legislators using his absence as an excuse not to compromise on health care reform. This is from today’s New York Times.
Republicans also noted that Mr. Kennedy, though an ideological liberal, was a legislative pragmatist who worked with Republicans to strike compromises on difficult subjects like health care, education and immigration. They said they saw little such reaching across the aisle in his absence.
Several Republicans also said they believed Congress would be closer to a health deal than it is now if Mr. Kennedy had regularly been on hand in the Senate, working face-to-face with his colleagues and using his prestige and credibility to advance the issue.
Look, both of these points are transparently false. On the first, I think it’s pretty difficult to look at the circus going on in the Senate Finance Committee and say that there hasn’t been any reach-arounds reaching across the aisle. Max Baucus has continually — and in my view, to a fault — reiterated his support for a bipartisan compromise, all the while giving up on important aspects of his vision like the public option, setting Medicare eligibility at 55, opening a powerful insurance exchange, offering high subsidies for the poor. Not to mention new things like Kent Conrad literally inventing the co-op idea or the “Gang of Six” folding to moronic pressure on end-of-life counseling. And it’s gotten them absolutely nothing. Grassley and Enzi are as uncooperative as ever.
As for the second point — that somehow, Ted Kennedy’s presence would have produce a deal — is absurd. The HELP Committee, which Kennedy chaired, passed a health care bill in July that was largely the product of Kennedy’s staff. Kennedy was not on the Finance Committee, nor was he involved in the “Gang of Six” negotiations which have done nothing but reduce the limits of the possible while making Max Baucus look like a fool.