My prayers go out to the Kennedy family. The death of Senator Edward Kennedy has resulted in a wave of retrospective pieces about his influence in the U.S. Senate and the public policy of the United States. As one of the longest serving Senators (he ran and won in 1964) he was a fierce liberal partisan, but also someone who worked across the aisle to get things done. One of his most sweeping legislative accomplishments, No Child Left Behind, was passed under a Republican Senate and signed by a Republican President. A pragmatist indeed.
But pragmatism, when put above principle, can come back to haunt you. When Sen. John Kerry was running for President in 2004, Kennedy put significant pressure on the Massachusetts legislature to change the law for the filling of a Senate vacancy. He did not want to give Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, the chance to appoint Kerry’s successor if he won the Presidency. So, the legislature changed the law to require a special election.
Now, five years later, there is a Democrat Governor, and had Kennedy left well enough alone, there would be someone appointed to his seat within a couple weeks. As it stands now, Kennedy’s seat will remain vacant until January.
The irony of this is that one of Kennedy’s life-long passions was health care policy. And his death, and the inability of quickly filling his seat, means that there are 59 Democrats in the Senate and that Obama and the Democrats will NOT be able to pass cloture (60 votes) on health care legislation without getting a Republican vote.
It may be that Kennedy’s “pragmatism” killed his dream for universal, government-run health care. Thank you, Senator.