Republicans Use Kennedy's Passing as Excuse for Failure on Health Reform

Republicans oppose health care reform. They shouldn't blame Ted Kennedy's absence and death for their obstinacy.

DON'T USE KENNEDY AS AN EXCUSE FOR FAILURE.... It started in earnest several days ago, before we knew the state of Ted Kennedy's condition. Conservative senators like Orrin Hatch and John McCain said Kennedy's absence from the Senate this year made bipartisan health care reform less likely. As the argument goes, Kennedy didn't mind reaching out to the GOP and compromising on his principles, unlike these other Democrats. Kennedy, they say, could have gotten a deal done.

It's a weak, and borderline offensive, argument. For one thing, characterizing Kennedy as the kind of leader who sold out liberal ideals for the sake of routine compromise is just wrong. For another, Senate Dems have reached out to Republicans, and the party has made it clear it opposes reform. For conservatives to suggest Kennedy could have persuaded them to embrace the opposite position is a cheap and cowardly cop-out.

Indeed, Edward Kennedy was in the Senate for nearly five decades, and passing health care reform was the cause of his life. If senators like Hatch and McCain were seriously open to the idea of passing reform, and Kennedy really had the ability to persuade conservative lawmakers to embrace a progressive policy, it would have produced a bipartisan reform plan a long time ago. That never happened.

But as today has progressed, Republicans have been slowly but deliberately using Kennedy's passing as an excuse for failure. Reform could have passed this year, they say, if only Kennedy had been up to it.

National Journal's John Mercurio wrote today:

Worried that they'll ultimately be viewed as the party that blocked meaningful reform, [Republicans] are using Kennedy as a convenient foil. If only he had been here, they say, Kennedy would have used his magic touch to reach a meaningful compromise, bringing us on board. That sounds awfully nice, but it's still hard to believe that Republicans, 47 percent of whom believe the Democratic bill includes "death panels," would somehow roll over and obey the man they publicly demonized for decades.

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."