Could Kennedy’s Death Save Health-Care Reform?

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With the passing of Ted Kennedy, the Senate loses not only one of its great leaders, but a potentially crucial 60th vote on health-care reform, the cause of his lifetime. Uncomfortable as it is to discuss right now, Kennedy became alarmed by this very prospect not long ago when he pleaded for the Massachusetts legislature to change the law so that Governor Deval Patrick could appoint a placeholder senator upon Kennedy's death until a special election could be held in January. The only problem is that Democrats had just removed that power in 2004 to prevent Mitt Romney from replacing John Kerry with a Republican should Kerry have won the presidency. It seems likely, therefore, that Kennedy's request will go unfulfilled, leaving Democrats with only 59 votes for now, one shy of the magic filibuster-breaking 60. That would seem to make the Democrats' task going forward that much more difficult. But is it also possible that Kennedy's passing could foster a new, temporary climate of bi-partisan cooperation? Some people think so!

• Chris Frates and Mike Allen examine how the "playing field" could change in favor of health-care reform: "[T]here is some hope among health care reform supporters that his passing will renew that spirit of pragmatism and deal making that marked Kennedy’s four decades in the Senate. The collective breath Washington and the nation will take to remember Kennedy over the next few days will likely lower the temperature on a debate that has reached a roiling boil over the last month. Operatives on both sides of the debate will have to readjust their strategies and consider how to calibrate their messages so they fit within the Kennedy narrative that is sure to drive coverage for coming days." [Politico Pulse/Politico]

• Alex Koppelman says Democrats will now "have to peel off an additional Republican vote in the Senate, which will be no easy feat, especially since they may already need a couple defectors to guard against" potential "no" votes from moderate Democrats. It's also possible "that progress on healthcare could simply be delayed an additional couple of months, until Kennedy's successor is elected." [War Room/Salon]

• Karen Tumulty posits that Massachusetts may, in fact, change succession law "simply because it was Kennedy's last wish." [Swampland/Time]

• Sara Wheaton says that with Kennedy gone, the possibility that Democrats use the reconciliation process to pass health-care reform, which requires only a bare majority, "seems even more likely." [NYT]

• Thomas Ferraro writes that Kennedy's absence has made hammering out a health-care compromise harder, but his death "could actually jump-start the effort for legislation that would be seen as a tribute to his lifetime of work." [Reuters]

• Steve Benen thinks there's at least a "remote" possibility that "just one or two of Kennedy's close, personal friends in the Senate's GOP caucus could honor his memory, put dignity above partisanship" by voting to end a filibuster, "and not let Kennedy's death kill the cause of his life." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Robert Schlesinger wonders if Kennedy's death will have a "galvanizing effect ... among his 99 remaining colleagues in the Senate." [US News]

• Noam Scheiber, over the weekend, predicted that with Kennedy's passing "the Senate math on any health care vote would almost certainly get easier, not harder. For one thing, it would single-handedly make the magic number 51 votes, not 60, since it would be suicidal for the GOP to filibuster the culmination of the last Kennedy brother's lifelong crusade. Beyond that, I suspect the coverage of Kennedy's death would silence healthcare reform critics and boost proponents in a way that netted at least a couple of wavering moderates — so clearing the 51-vote threshold wouldn't be a problem." [Stash/New Republic]

• Jason Zengerle doesn't "see anything in Republican Senators’ current behavior that suggests that they’d respond in such a fashion." Instead, he suspects they "will continue with this more in sorrow than in anger opposition to health reform and use it to justify a filibuster." [Plank/New Republic]

• Chris Cillizza believes the assumption that Kennedy's passing "will shepherd in ... a new era of bipartisanship that will culminate with passage of some sort of health care reform legislation this fall" is flawed because "it overlooks the fact that the Senate has fundamentally changed since the time Kennedy was elected — becoming far more partisan a body (more in line with the House of Representatives) with many younger Senators who served only briefly with Kennedy." [Fix/WP]