...This is the cause of my life - new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American - north, south, east, west, young, old - will have decent, quality healthcare as a fundamental right and not a privilege. We can meet these challenges with Barack Obama. Yes, we can, and finally, yes, we will ~ Senator Edward Kennedy (2/22/1932 - 8/25/2009) at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (8/25/2008).
Keith Olbermann and VT Senator Bernie Sanders discuss the recent passing of MA Senator Ted Kennedy and what it means for the prospect of healthcare reform - an excerpt from the August 26, 2009 broadcast of Countdown: (edited for brevity and clarity)
Keith: Senator Ted Kennedy first devoted himself to reforming healthcare when he discovered Boston public housing residents had to spend 5 hours getting to and waiting for emergency room care. That was in 1966. Two of his three children battled cancer. One, his son Edward Jr., lost a leg to it at the age of 12. In our first story tonight, the future of what Kennedy called the cause of his life - healthcare reform. The health of all Americans, especially those in need, preoccupied this Kennedy even before he entered the Senate.
Last month his committee passed his bill for reform, but Kennedy had been down this road before - lost the battle when the Clinton's tried in '94. Lost when he ran on it in 1980. Lost a battle with President Nixon over it. Last year he played kingmaker, anointing a new standard-bearer for the cause. And so it is reported that when this president has been asked why he pushes healthcare so hard, he responds, "I promised Teddy".
We're joined tonight by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Great, thanks for your time tonight Senator, and our condolences on the loss of your colleague.
Sen. Sanders: Thank you Keith.
Keith: Tell us about the bill that the Kennedy committee passed, and about his concept of healthcare reform and where it stands now in his absence.
Sen. Sanders: Well, as you know, Kennedy's passion was that every single American have healthcare as a right of citizenship. He understood that there was something lacking in our country today, when we remain the only nation in the industrialized world that does not provide healthcare to all people, and yet we end up spending twice as much as any other country.
Where we are right now is, uh, Senator Kennedy's committee, which was led by Chris Dodd in his absence, has passed a pretty strong health care bill which, among other things, has a strong public option, which would substantially increase the number of community health centers in America, so that all Americans, in fact, would have access to a doctor, to dental care, to low cost prescription drugs; a greater emphasis on disease prevention and on quality care, and of course access for all Americans.That was passed by the Senate Health Committee. But, as you also know, the Senate Finance Committee seems to be going nowhere in a hurry.
My view - and I think a lot of other people in the Senate think "enough is enough" - lets take the Senate health committee bill, if no Republicans are prepared to support it - and I certainly hope that some of them will have a change of heart with Senator Kennedy's death - and go it alone. We have 60 votes within the Senate, and we can defeat a Republican filibuster. We negotiate with the House, and we finally pass healthcare reform that this country has been waiting for for decades.
Keith: To the point you just raised - Senator Kennedy wrote that, "incremental measures won't suffice anymore". Is there any chance that his passing will at least inspire wavering Democrats in the Senate, and the so called "blue dogs" in the House, to stand fast for the kind of reform he was dedicated to?
Sen. Sanders: Well, I certainly hope so. You know, with a Democratic President, with 60 votes in the senate, and a strong vote in the House, it really is embarrassing if the Democrats can't pass strong healthcare reform. And what my view has been from the very beginning, if for whatever reason in the Senate, there are some Senators who don't want to support a public option, don't want strong health care reform - that's fine. At least vote to stop the Republican filibusters, which over and over again are holding up any kind of progress. And if they choose, if the Democrats choose to vote, some of them, against final passage, that's fine - we will have 50 votes, in any case, to pass strong legislation.
Keith: I apologize if this last question seems at all indelicate, but Mr. Obama's reply, "I promised Teddy" - will the President be able to deliver on that promise, or are we just going to end up with some sort of obscene bill, that, even if it is named after Senator Kennedy, just funnels more money to the insurance companies.
Sen. Sanders: Well, I think that all of us - those of us in the Congress and the American people - have got to stand tall right now - we need strong a strong grass roots effort to put steel into the backs of many of the members of Congress to have the guts to stand up to the insurance companies, the drug companies and the people who make billions off of healthcare, and finally say that every person in this country is going to receive quality healthcare and, in the process, save billions of dollars. We can do it, if we have the courage, and now is the time.
My Commentary: I've heard Senator Sanders make the case that we have 60 Democratic votes, and that every Democrat should vote for cloture - and I've agreed with him every time I heard him advocate the Democrats go that route. This time he made the same argument, but without Senator Kennedy we no longer have 60 votes.
In regards to the possibility of appointing an interim Senator until a special election can be held in 5 months, Keith said, "there seems to be reactions from the Boston and other newspapers in MA that Governor Patrick is attending to this and seems to have the support of the state legislature".
Let's hope we can get someone in to fill Senator Kennedy's seat and restore the Democrats 60-seat filibuster proof majority as soon as possible. Or that, to honor Senator Kennedy, some Republicans agree to vote to end the filibuster.
My opinion is that the MA legislature should change the law to allow the Governor to appoint an interim Senator until a special election can be held. If not, it will be at least 145 days (according to current MA law) until another senator can be seated.
I wasn't aware of this provision in MA law before, but, after reading up on the matter, it appears to have been a very bad idea. The law was changed in 2004 to prevent then Governor Mitt Romney from selecting an interim Senator if John Kerry were elected president. If John Kerry had won (which he would have, if not for the Republican theft of Ohio), Governor Romney's selection would have only been temporary. Now this decision could have some serious implications. Certainly some will cry foul if the Democrats, who changed the law only 4 years ago, change it again to benefit themselves.
It may not be good form, but I think we need to do what is necessary to insure health care legislation is passed. The Governor says he will sign a bill. Republicans only hold 10 percent of the MA Congressional seats. A mistake was made, but that shouldn't mean we allow Republican obstructionism to prevail. People are getting sick of Republican obstructionism. According to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll 72 percent of the American people want a public option.
If the Democrats fail to give the American people the change they voted for when they elected Barack Obama there will be consequences in 2010. According to a July 15th Huffington Post article, it is the "blue dog" Democrats in the House that will most likely lose seats if healthcare insurance reform fails - whether "failure" means no bill or a obscene Republican-compromised bill that funnels more money to the insurance companies. That being the case, WHY are the "blue dogs" not on board?