# Ted Kennedy

Harkin had the votes to pass Employee Free Choice Act

I mentioned on Labor Day that I haven’t heard much lately about Senator Tom Harkin’s efforts to reach a compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act. The EFCA is one of the top legislative priorities for organized labor and needs 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster. Several Democrats who supported the bill in 2007, knowing that President Bush would veto it, either oppose the bill or have dodged the question this year.

Harkin has been the lead Senate negotiator on EFCA and is replacing the late Senator Ted Kennedy as chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Speaking to the American Rights at Work group yesterday, Harkin said he had 60 votes lined up behind a compromise this summer:

“As of July, I can tell you this openly and I know the press is all here but we had worked out a pretty good agreement. […]”

Harkin said prominent labor leaders were on board with the deal, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union.

“That’s when we needed 60 votes and that’s when I called to get Sen. Kennedy down because we needed him for three days. That’s when Dr. [Lawrence] Horowitz told me that he couldn’t make it,” Harkin said.

The Hill’s Kevin Bogardus reported that Harkin refused to specify the terms of the compromise deal:

“I will not say because it was closely held, it never leaked out and it still hasn’t,” Harkin said. “I took it off the front-burner and put it on the back-burner so it is still on warm, OK?”

In May Harkin suggested that the “card check” provision might be dropped from the bill in favor of other changes to labor election procedures. He did not say anything about binding arbitration, which is also an important part of the EFCA.

If Massachusetts law is changed to allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary replacement for Kennedy, then Harkin may be able to revive this compromise and pass the EFCA this fall. Democratic leaders in the House agreed earlier this year not to bring the EFCA up for a vote until the measure had passed the Senate. Getting the bill through the House should not be difficult, even if a substantial number of Blue Dog Democrats vote no.

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Rest in peace, Ted Kennedy

Highly recommended: the National Journal’s compilation of several dozen tributes to Ted Kennedy, as his current and former staffers and other elected officials remember him.

Ted Kennedy has died of brain cancer:

But while the White House eluded his grasp, the longtime Massachusetts senator was considered one of the most effective legislators of the past few decades. Kennedy, who became known as the “lion of the Senate,” played major roles in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, and was an outspoken liberal standard-bearer during a conservative-dominated era from the 1980s to the early 2000s. […]

Said Kennedy’s biographer, Adam Clymer: “He was probably best known for the ability to work with Republicans. The Republican Party raised hundreds of millions of dollars with direct appeal to protect the country from Ted Kennedy, but there was never a piece of legislation that he ever got passed without a major Republican ally.”

There’s much more detail about his life in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times obituaries. Norman Ornstein observed, “When you survey the impact of the Kennedys on American life and politics and policy, he will end up by far being the most significant.” Some may focus on his personal flaws, but he had a lot of demons to escape from, having had four of his older siblings die violently before his 40th birthday.

I appreciated Kennedy’s commitment to improving legal protections for so many disadvantaged people. I never met him, but I’ll always remember seeing him speak at a rally for John Kerry shortly before the 2004 caucuses. The Hoover High School gymnasium was packed, and Kennedy got the crowd going with humor and passion.

It’s sad that cancer prevented Kennedy from being more involved in the Senate health care deliberations this year. He would have been a voice for many of the reforms we need.

Even if Congress approves a health care bill, it will fall short of the universal coverage Kennedy advocated for most of his career. On the other hand, Kennedy famously regretted not reaching a health care compromise with President Richard Nixon in the early 70s. (Nixon was prepared to require employers to provide health insurance, while Kennedy wanted a single-payer type system.) While that compromise wouldn’t have helped everyone, we would have a lot fewer than 47 million uninsured Americans today if it had passed.

Massachusetts law requires a special election in the event of a U.S. Senate seat vacancy. Last month Kennedy asked Governor Deval Patrick and state legislators to amend the law to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement (who would not be able to compete in the special election) so that Massachusetts will not be lacking a vote when important legislation comes before the Senate this fall.

Share your thoughts and memories about Ted Kennedy in this thread.

UPDATE: I’m with Senator Tom Harkin: “We must now rededicate our efforts toward passing legislation to provide robust, quality health insurance coverage for all Americans.”

SECOND UPDATE: More reaction after the jump, including a video of Vice President Joe Biden.

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Harkin and Loebsack support public option in health care reform

Congress will begin making important decisions on health care policy very soon. The Senate Finance Committee began drafting a health care bill a few days ago.

I was glad to see two Iowans among the representatives and senators who urged colleagues this week to include a strong public option in any health care reform plan.

After the jump I have more on where Congressman Dave Loebsack and Senator Tom Harkin stand on health care, as well as the benefits of creating a public health insurance option.

UPDATE: Thanks to Populista for reminding me that all Iowa Democrats in Congress (Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell and Tom Harkin) have signed on to support Health Care for America Now’s core principles for health care reform.

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McCain only senator to skip Medicare vote

Ninety-nine senators showed up today to vote on a Medicare bill, including Ted Kennedy, who recently had brain surgery and wasn’t scheduled to return to the Senate until September. (Here’s some background on the content of the bill.)

Kennedy’s vote was needed to break a Republican filibuster. Once it was clear Democrats had the 60 votes for cloture, a bunch of Republican senators flipped and voted with Democrats, so the final vote was 69-30.

John McCain was the only senator to skip this vote.

In fact, John McCain has missed more than half the Senate votes this year, including dozens after he had already locked up the GOP nomination.

By the way, the GOP stand on this Medicare bill has caused them to lose a lot of support from doctors and from the American Medical Association, which has traditionally supported Republicans.