Sen. Ted Kennedy has fight in him still. He began circulating an outline for his own health reform legislation late last week, which he’s expected to flesh out today or tomorrow. It’s an important step, because Kennedy’s legislation rejoins the fight for a creating a public plan to compete with existing private plans.
Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the crucial Senate Finance Committee, has thus far not had the stomach to fight for a public plan—which was a key component of President Obama’s reform proposal and, frankly, his entire presidential campaign. With Baucus running the congressional debate thus far, the public plan has gone from fait accompli to contentious. Baucus—a “moderate” Democrat—has sacrificed the idea in hopes of winning Republican support, while the White House has done little to defend it.
Until now. The WASHINGTON POST reports that, as Kennedy began circulating his plan, Obama began stoking his Organizing for America network to turn up the volume on America’s demand for health care reform. And in a Boston Globe op-ed, Kennedy declared that a robust public option is an essential element of reform. Kennedy’s plan reportedly echoes Obama’s in requiring employers either offer health insurance or pay into a public option and it mandates all Americans have insurance. It also creates a federal minimum for state Medicaid coverage.
Meanwhile, Baucus and Kennedy, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released a joint statement on Saturday seeking to downplay their differences and vowing to work together.
“We intend to ensure that our committees report similar and complementary legislation that can be quickly merged into one bill for consideration on the Senate floor before the August recess.”
But their differences are nonetheless foundational.
Kennedy’s committee is expected to start discussing his bill this week. Given how little he’s been in Washington since he began battling brain cancer, it remains to be seen how active of a role he’ll play. But Kennedy’s name is synonymous with health reform and given his close relationship with the White House, his loud noises in support of a public plan may at least signal that Obama is prepared to fight for it.