Hatch and Kennedy

In principle, there’s something ridiculous about the fact that Ted Kennedy’s possible medical incapacitation could play a role in the outcome of the health care debate. Even if Kennedy is too sick to travel to Washington without endangering his health, it would be easy for him to indicate that he favors health reform and for the system to proceed accordingly. Alternatively, there’s a chance that Kennedy might actually die before Massachusetts can put in place a legal framework that would allow a successor to be appointed this year. As Ezra Klein says a great example of the Senate’s famous civility and personal relationships would be for someone to help him out with this situation:

That is to say, where Kennedy’s great friend Orrin Hatch would have voted to uphold a filibuster, now he will vote to shut it down, as that’s how the vote would have gone if Ted Kennedy were still alive, and it is neither decent nor small-d democratic to doom health care because the bill’s greatest advocate contracted incurable brain cancer.

Such a trade would not only be a grand show of respect for Kennedy’s life work, but it would uphold the outcome that Americans chose when they voted 60 Democrats into office in 2008. Conversely, if not one Republican can be found who feels enough loyalty to Kennedy to make sure that his death doesn’t kill the work of his life, then what are all those personal relationships and all that gentility really worth?

But of course there’s no indication that Republicans are planning to do anything other than play hardball politics with Kennedy’s illness. Orrin Hatch specifically touched on this issue just last night:


VAN SUSTEREN: If — if Senator Kennedy is unavailable to vote, and let’s say Senator Byrd is unavailable to vote, and the Democrats, though, do have all these votes in the House and the Senate and the White House, is this going to pass? HATCH: Well, the Democrats should be able to pass it. They have overwhelming majorities in the House, and they have 60 solid votes in the Senate. The only people they can’t control are the American people, who are expressing their opposition to these type of things. But they certainly have the ability to pass something. But like I say, there are a lot of Democrats who don’t want this government plan, knowing that — look, Medicare is now $38 trillion in unfunded liability, goes bankrupt within the next 10 years. You know, you look at the budget and the deficits and all the other things that are adding up. We’re adding — we’re doubling the budgetary deficit, you know, the national debt, within five years and we’ll triple it in 10 years. You know, and then they want to add to this, you know, a single-payer system that basically is going to cost an arm and a leg and won’t do the job anyway.

Hatch is specifically asked a question about Kennedy’s possible incapacitation, simply ignores it, and then goes on to lie to totally mischaracterize the public option debate. And on some level, why not? It’s all in the game and Hatch is playing to win. But that means progressive legislators need to play to win, too, not let procedural obstruction prevent them from passing good bills.