Critical Condition

Senator Kennedy and Health-Care Reform

Senator Ted Kennedy was both respected and liked by colleagues on both sides of the aisle during his remarkable 47 years in the Senate.

While he always was firm in his liberal views and I seldom agreed with him, Senator Kennedy did listen to his Republican colleagues and worked to forge compromises. That bipartisan spirit has been markedly missing during his absence from the Senate this year. The health-reform legislation making its way through Congress is rigid and aggressively liberal, without any evidence of bipartisanship, and it is rightly facing a firestorm of opposition.

Senator Robert Byrd has asked that the bill be named after Senator Kennedy in hopes that will revitalize its chances of passage. But I think it is too late. The American people understand the huge impact this legislation would have on the lives of 300 million Americans, and they are not going to be swayed by sentiment.

Shortly before Senator Kennedy’s death, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin told a large crowd at a town hall meeting that there would likely be no health care bill before the end of the year — and perhaps none at all. “Nobody is going to bring a bill before Christmas, and maybe not even then, if this ever happens,” he said. “The divisions are so deep. I never seen anything like that.” Although Feingold was lamenting the legislation’s prospects, the standing-room-only audience clearly felt otherwise: it reportedly burst into applause.

Senator Joe Lieberman said basically the same thing on CNN last Sunday. He said that “we’ve got to think about putting a lot of [the Democrats’ desired reforms] off until the economy is out of recession,” adding that “there’s no reason we have to do it all now.”

And Senator John McCain said during an interview with Sean Hannity that he has “never” seen anything like the “peaceful revolution taking place” in opposition to President Obama’s push for health reform. “There is a grass-roots uprising the likes of which I have never seen. There’s anger; there’s concern about the future. There’s concern about the generational theft that we’ve committed by running up unconscionable and unsustainable deficits.”

The Democratic leadership may invoke Senator Kennedy’s name to try to keep their own members in line, but it’s just impossible to see how they could justify shoving this unpopular bill through with votes only from Democrats and only a few hours of floor debate, as Senator Reid is threatening. The public would revolt.

But we’re seeing advocates of reform are not giving up. In fact, they are accelerating their campaign.

In an effort to counter the impact of the town-hall meetings, the Democratic National Committee and its allied groups have announced plans to hold hundreds of events around the country before Congress returns to Washington on September 8. The events will range from phone banks and community meetings to professionally staffed rallies where pro-reform advocates are bused in. The SEIU hosted one such event — a rally featuring Democratic Representative Jim Moran in Reston, Virginia last Tuesday night (archived by C-SPAN here).

The Moran rally was evidence of what is really going on. Many of those cheering for ObamaCare and a public plan had been bused in, shouting chants and waving pre-printed signs.

That is a dramatic contrast to the town-hall meetings I’ve attended outside Washington filled with citizens who have taken time to drive in, sometimes making their own hand-lettered signs. I saw no buses or community organizers. People came of their own volition to let their representatives know how concerned they are about Washington’s big spending, and how worried they are about government domination of the health sector.

It is frankly infuriating to me that Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid have called these people “un-American,” “angry mobs,” and “evil-mongers.” These are citizens who care about America, and this kind of name calling has no place in American politics.

— Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute.