WASHINGTON -- Paul Kirk is expected to get the immediate attention of top Democrats in Washington looking for all the troops they can find for the upcoming battle over legislation to overhaul the nation's health care system.
But the new junior senator from Massachusetts might not necessarily be the deciding vote on health care because some moderate Democrats are also wary of the developing legislation. Democratic leaders are trying to reach the 60-vote threshold, the magic number needed to end floor debate and stymie a Republican filibuster.
“I’m very much looking forward to having a 60th vote,’’ Max Baucus, the Senate Finance chairman and Montana Democrat who has become President Obama’s point man on the controversial health care measure, told the Globe Wednesday before Kirk's appointment was announced. “But it doesn’t change the dynamic’’ of what have been sensitive, frequently contentious negotiations with Republicans and moderate Democrats.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, echoed Baucus: One more Democratic vote isn’t enough to counter the growing opposition - and influence - of party moderates.
“There are too many ‘red-state’ Democrats,’’ said Graham, a staunch opponent of the Democrats’ current health care proposals. “They’re not going to sign on for what they perceive as a government power grab.’’
Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, today slammed the appointment of what he called an "unelected senator."
“The Democrats’ power play in Massachusetts has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with politics," Jesmer said in a statement. "With their unpopular government-run health care bill on the brink of failure, Democrats in Washington desperately need another vote in the U.S. Senate, and it is clear that this Administration will stop at nothing to ram it through the Congress. By meddling in the affairs of state politics just weeks after promising to leave it up to the elected Massachusetts officials, Democrat leaders in Washington have demonstrated a willingness to put partisan politics over principle, a far cry from candidate Obama’s pledge to change the way business is done in Washington.”
Kennedy’s death in August after a 15-month battle with brain cancer came at the height of negotiations over health care reform, which the late senator had called his “life’s work’’ and which Obama declared his top domestic priority. Kennedy’s absence had a significant effect, particularly when the issue broke down along party lines: Republicans missed his negotiating skill, while Democrats realized they needed his vote to pass any legislation.
“When Governor Patrick appoints an interim successor for Senator Kennedy, it will add an important voice to the health care debate - a voice that was lost with Senator Kennedy’s passing,’’ Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said through a spokesman Wednesday. “We’ve seen in recent years that every vote counts and the people of Massachusetts need their full representation to be engaged in this critical health care debate.’’
Senator John F. Kerry, now the Bay State’s senior senator, said Wednesday that the vacancy had an impact beyond health care reform.
“What I know with certainty is that Massachusetts is best served by two voices in the Senate, and I’m grateful to all those who did the right thing in giving our delegation in Washington the strongest possible hand for these next few months,’’ Kerry said. “This is what Ted Kennedy wanted, what Governor Patrick and I wanted, and I firmly believe it’s what people in Massachusetts want because the big votes, on everything from health care to climate change, cannot wait.’’
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