Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), an iconic figure of past reform battles on Capitol Hill, is looking to push healthcare high on Congress agenda by assembling a group of stakeholders to quickly produce major healthcare legislation early in President-elect Barack Obamas term.
Its a role the senator was born to play, many reform advocates say.
His imprint on the process of whats going to happen in the Senate, I think, is extraordinary, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.
Michael Myers, staff director for Kennedys Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, confirmed that the ailing senator has worked in private with a number of different stakeholders to frame out a bill that would deal with the cost, quality and access to care, though a draft or summary has yet to emerge.
Still, its a good sign that the senator has been able to bring the ideologically diverse groups to the table, many of whom historically have been on the opposite side of the health reform debate, including the National Federation of Independent Business, the Business Roundtable, Families USA and a host of labor unions and other interest groups. I have never seen such cooperative activity as we have witnessed over the last few months, Pollack said.
Myers said Kennedy wants to tackle the reform effort in one comprehensive bill rather than in several smaller onesa move many see as a way to stave off the pitfalls that befell previous reform efforts.
With the Obama victory, the question is no longer whether we will pursue comprehensive health reform, but when and in exactly what form, Myers said.
Kennedy had a seizure in May and underwent surgery the following month for a malignant brain tumor. In July, the 76-year-old senator made an emotional return to the Capitol to vote in favor of a Medicare reform bill. Since then, he has been holding a series of roundtable discussions from his home in Massachusetts. He has told aides that he could return to the Senate in January.
The sheer size, scope and cost of Obamas plan will no doubt draw critics and supporters alike (See story, p. 6). Dennis Rivera, who chairs the Service Employees International Unions healthcare initiatives, said that if Congress could find the roughly $700 billion for the recent Wall Street bailout, then funding for health reform can also be found.