The Five Month Delay
Maybe it's crass to talk about this, but Ted Kennedy's death leaves a hole in the US Senate. A figurative one, of course, one that won't likely be filled. But there's also a literal hole, one that brings the number of Senators down to 99, with 59 on the Democratic side. Because of the rules of the state of Massachusetts, there will be no replacement for the Senate seat until January 2010.
Politico reported this morning, "[I]t appears for now that Massachusetts will be without a second senator until a special election can be held early next year.... Under the 2004 law, the governor must set a special election to fill a vacant Senate seat between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy occurs - meaning, in this case, that a special election would be held in the second half of January 2010."
All of this is of the utmost importance, of course, because of a possible vote this year on health care reform, a fight Kennedy described as "the cause of my life." The prospects of overcoming Republican obstructionism were difficult enough, but with 59 votes in the Democratic caucus, defeating a GOP filibuster may prove impossible, which in turn makes the reconciliation option more appealing.
Of course, there are certain elements that cannot be achieved through reconciliation, namely the insurance regulatory reforms, among other things. And I simply don't see any Republican watching so much of the bill passed through a 50-vote process and then invoking cloture. Unless Olympia Snowe gets religion, all Senators in the GOP will obstruct and obstruct.
I know that Kennedy's death is seen by some as a rallying cry to pass health care reform. I fear it's as doomed as ever, at least until we get a replacement in Massachusetts.
(And who will that replacement be? I'd expect the entire Massachusetts delegation in the House to run for the seat.)
...Robert Byrd has called for the health care reform bill to be named after Sen. Kennedy. That tribute will only be fitting if it passes.
"In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American."
...Talk of Massachusetts potentially changing the law to allow a caretaker Senator to hold office for five months, and even to give that position to former Governor Michael Dukakis. I'm actually pessimistic that this will happen. Deval Patrick is unpopular, and this will look very partisan, regardless of the outpouring of sympathy for Kennedy's death. Patrick will have a tough re-election fight coming up and may not want to deal with an appointment controversy.