By Geoff Garin
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Ted Kennedy's voice and leadership will be sorely missed in the effort to pass health-care reform. But when Republicans say that Democrats don't have anyone to take his place in achieving a bipartisan compromise, they are either missing, or deliberately obscuring, the relevant lesson of Kennedy's example.
The truth is that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, with the support of the White House, has worked hard for months to reach consensus with Sens. Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe and Mike Enzi on a health-reform bill -- incurring, for his trouble, more than a little heat from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But so far, the Republicans haven't had the will, courage or independence to strike a deal. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been doing his best to end the negotiations, apparently agreeing with Jim DeMint's political assessment that health care could be President Obama's Waterloo. And now Chuck Grassley says he could sign only a compromise that a majority of the GOP caucus would support.
The problem is not that there is no Ted Kennedy among the Democrats who understands the art of compromise. The problem is that there is no Republican willing to provide, for health reform, the kind of bold leadership that Kennedy provided to help pass controversial legislation when George W. Bush was president.
For example, No Child Left Behind become law because Kennedy agreed to support President Bush's signal education initiative -- aggravating more than a few members of the Democratic caucus and establishment who thought the act was wrong on the merits and poor politics. But Kennedy believed it was worth the risk and lent his prestige and credibility to making it happen.
Democrats did not get their way on the creation of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, but on that, too, Kennedy decided that something was better than nothing, even though seniors were required to buy their coverage through private companies and Medicare was prevented from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies for the best prices.
Kennedy gave Bush a victory rather than sending the Republicans to their Waterloo because he believed the result was more important than short-term politics. If Republicans really want to honor the senator's memory, they should stop using him as an excuse for the failure of health-care reform and instead start living up to his example.
The writer, a Democratic pollster and strategist, is president of Hart Research Associates.