Ted Kennedy Died Last Night
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), one of the most influential senators in decades, has
died of brain cancer. Obituaries can be found at
and every other news outlet.
Most of the stories focus on his life and that of his slain brothers.
But the political angle is what happens to his seat in the Senate.
Just last week he called for the Massachusetts state legislature to once again change
Massachusetts law to give the governor, currently Deval Patrick (D-MA), the power to make
temporary appointments until a special election can be held in late January to replace Kennedy.
Without Kennedy, the Democrats do not have the 60 votes needed to invoke
cloture, which could completely derail their health reform package.
Thus all of a sudden, the fate of the health care bill depends on the Massachusetts
The problem there isn't a lack of votes. Democrats dominate both houses of the state
legislature and the governor, a Democrat, certainly wouldn't veto a bill giving him appointment power.
The problem is that the legislature and the governor don't get along very well and the
legislature may be hesitant to give the governor new power. Another issue is who he would
appoint. The succession law was changed in 2004 to prevent then-governor Mitt Romney from
appointing a Republican to the seat of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in the event that he won the
presidency. The argument was that the people, not the governor, should decide who their senator is.
Now the legislature would have to backtrack and would not want the appointee to have an edge
in the upcoming special election. Some people have suggested that the governor appoint an
older person who would not be interested in running for the Senate. One name that has
surfaced is that of former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. After possibility is Kennedy's
wife, Vicki, although she has said she wasn't really interested in the job.
For the next week, nothing will happen in public view because the legislature is not in session
and will not return until after labor day. But the cell phones will be buzzing, make no mistake.
Republican leaders in the state legislature have already denounced the idea of changing the law.
Further down the road is the special election, which the legislature certainly will not abolish.
Massachusetts has 10 Democratic representatives in the House, the best known of whom are
Barney Frank and Edward Markey. There are also plenty of ambitious Democrats holding state offices.
There are also numerous younger Kennedys who might be interested in upholding the family tradition.
Ted's son, Patrick Kennedy, is already in the House (in Rhode Island), for example.
A primary will be held 6 weeks before the general election, most likely in late November or early December.
While some Republicans may run for the seat, they have virtually
no chance of winning in such a blue state as Massachusetts (although Massachusetts does elect
Republican governors from time to time).
Real Choice in Health Care is Off Limits
While there is a huge battle going on concerning the "public option" in health care, the
presence or absence of a weak government plan for a tiny fraction of Americans really does nothing
for the vast majority of people who basically are stuck with whatever their employer offers.
These companies are effectively monopolies and behave as such. A far more comprehensive reform
would force real competition between private health insurance companies. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR),
actually introduced such a
but it is getting nowhere. Too many big players do not want competition, not from a weak government
plan and certainly not from strong insurance companies. Real competition would drive prices, profits,
and CEO salaries down, and nobody in the business wants that. What's really odd about Wyden's bill
is that one might naively expect the Republicans to be offering it as an alternative--a way to improve
health care and keep down prices and based entirely on a private sector solution.
But such is not the case.
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