Brief of the Week August 31, 2009

HEALTHCARE WITHOUT TED KENNEDY:  What will Ted Kennedy’s death mean for passage of nationalized health insurance? That was the big political question being asked last week now that the Senate’s most durable proponent of universal government-run healthcare is gone. Will his death give a major boost to the “public option” element now under such widespread attack? There was talk last week that such a public option measure be named for Kennedy to make it more popular. But could even such a renamed program make it through the Senate? The answer is “not likely.” The same week that Kennedy died, a new poll conducted by the Penn-Schoen firm for the American Association of Retired Persons showed that 65 % of voters oppose increasing taxes to pay for coverage of those Americans who are uninsured. The same survey showed that while nearly eight out of ten Americans say they favor a public option insurance plan, fewer than four in ten can identify what a public option is. According to veteran political analyst Charlie Cook, Democrats may face as bad a political year as they did after Bill Clinton unsuccessfully sought an overhaul of health care. This time, wrote Cook, “President Obama made the mistake of outsourcing major public policy to an institution that doesn’t have a lot of credibility: Congress.” The poll figures aside, Kennedy’s death and the long-term absence of ailing Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) mean that the 60-seat, “filibuster-proof” Democratic Senate is actually a 58-seat Senate and not invulnerable to a filibuster, which Republicans are sure to launch if public option ever makes it to the Senate floor.