THE STASH AUGUST 28, 2009
The emerging CW on Kennedy and health care is that his death either doesn't change or worsens the Senate math because the people who hold the key votes--Republicans and moderate Democrats--don't hail from states where there's much of an outpouring of goodwill. As my colleague Mike Crowley puts it today, subbing in for the apparently human (who knew?) Mike Allen in Politico's "Playbook":
Will there be a “Kennedy effect” that pushes health care through? Not likely. Obama’s main roadblock is the group of moderate Democratic Senators with qualms about the price tag and the public options. Dems like Max Baucus, Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad don’t come from states likely to be swelling with Kennedy nostalgia.
Fair enough. But what gets lost in this discussion is that the biggest obstacle to health care reform is a potential GOP filibuster, which would require 60 votes to break--meaning every Democratic senator, the two Democratic-leaning independents, and, at this moment, at least one Republican. If you break the filibuster, then you don't actually need Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad; you just need 51 votes.
Why am I so confident Kennedy's passing makes a filibuster less likely? As I've explained before, it has nothing to do with my faith in GOP magnanimity (of which I have zero), or even the goodwill of Democratic moderates. It has to do with the fact that filibustering--not just opposing, but preventing a basic up or down vote on--the lifelong project of the last Kennedy brother won't go over well after a few weeks of favorable coverage. You don't have to be a Kennedy groupie to be offended by an effort to derail his final crusade through anti-democratic means. (And I suspect that theme would figure prominently in the media coverage of a filibuster.)
But, even if you reject this logic generally, let's think about who the GOP needs to sustain a filibuster if Democrats hang together: Two Maine senators, go by the names "Olympia Snowe" and "Susan Collins." Here are some facts you may not already know about their home state:
1.) It's in the Northeast.
2.) Not just the Northeast, but very close to Massachusetts.
3.) So close to Massachusetts, in fact, it used to be a part of it.
4.) A lot of people in Maine consume Boston-area media.
5.) They sure love their Red Sox up there.
6.) Maine went for Obama 58-40 last November.
Now, who knows, maybe the Maine-ards secretly revile the Kennedy clan. But, just looking over the specs, it sure sounds like a state that might be prone to some Kennedy sympathy. Certainly the kind of place where you might take abuse for trying to filibuster his final initiative.
Having said all that, does Kennedy's death ensure passage of health care reform? Of course not. Maybe not even close. But the original claim was that it makes the Senate math easier, and I think it's pretty hard to argue it doesn't. (The only way is to suggest that a filibuster becomes less likely, but getting 51 votes gets harder. That's possible--maybe Collins and Snowe weren't going to filibuster either way, but won't vote for the bill itself, making Kennedy's lost vote critical. But I haven't heard anyone make that argument and I think it's unlikely.)
P.S. While no one can replace the incomparable Mike Allen, Crowley did a pretty terrific job this morning. Don't miss this gem in particular:
LIFE’S RICH PAGEANT — AP: “Two Connecticut men are facing assault charges after allegedly battling with a belt buckle and a spatula in Hopeville Pond State Park in Griswold.” Reminder: Never bring a spatula to a belt buckle fight.
To quote the great Chris Matthews: "HA!"