"In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on healthcare reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American." So said Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia this morning in a tribute to his departed colleague, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
As we all know, the shouting and name calling will not stop. Come September, if not sooner, Republicans will go right back to spreading fear and misinformation about any proposed healthcare bill (while at the same time complaining that Democrats are not "reaching across the aisle" to forge a bipartisan approach, as though this is possible with a party that wishes to sabotage any meaningful effort to reform the system).
But the question of whether Kennedy’s legacy will be honored is not up to Republicans. It’s up to Democrats. They control Congress. They control the White House. They have seen the polls showing that the public overwhelmingly supports giving people a choice by including a public option in any healthcare overhaul. Unfortunately, some of them have also been taking their advice from people like former Kennedy colleague Tom Daschle, the one-time South Dakota Senator turned disgraceful shill for the healthcare industry. As David Kirkpatrick of The Times reported earlier this week, Daschle has spent the past few months peddling the idea of nonprofit insurance co-ops as an alternative to the public option. He also happens to be a high-paid adviser to the clients of Alston & Bird, among which are various insurance, drug and hospital companies.
"The president greatly appreciates that advice and Tom’s friendship," White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer told The Times, begging the question of whether Obama has any more will and desire to take on the healthcare industry than Daschle does. Meaningful healthcare reform with a real government option should indeed bear the name of Senator Kennedy, who spent forty years fighting honorably for what he called "the cause of my life." A sham bill tailored to the interests of Alston & Bird’s clients should not.