Senator Kennedy has requested that the Massachusetts legislature and governor move to change the law regarding how a vacant Senate seat is filled. Kennedy’s interest is due to his own serious health issue and the precarious nature of health reform legislation in the US Senate. Health reform has been one of Kennedy’s top concerns his entire career.
Noam Scheiber over at The New Republic thinks it would be a bad idea for Massachusetts to change the law.
Scheiber thinks that Kennedy’s vacant seat after his death would increase the likelihood that health reform legislation would pass.
… it would be suicidal for the GOP to filibuster the culmination of the last Kennedy brother’s lifelong crusade.
I see two problems here. I’m not convinced it would be suicidal for the GOP to do that (though possibly). More importantly, I doubt the GOP would see it that way.
Further, I don’t see what difference it would make if Kennedy’s seat was filled by the governor’s appointment or not. If the GOP did believe it suicidal to “filibuster the culmination of the last Kennedy brother’s lifelong crusade” why would the seat being filled change that calculation?
Scheiber goes on to say:
I suspect the coverage of Kennedy’s death would silence healthcare reform critics and boost proponents in a way that netted at least a couple of wavering moderates – so clearing the 51-vote threshold wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, you might even see Utah Republican (and longtime Kennedy friend) Orrin Hatch back in the reformist camp.
This may very well be true, but again, I don’t see how the governor naming someone to fill the vacant seat disrupts this all that much. An addition of a couple of moderate votes would be helpful to get to 60.
Finally, Scheiber is assuming that Kennedy is concerned about what will happen after his death. It could be that Kennedy is prepared to resign the moment Massachusetts makes the appropriate change in the law. Kennedy might be at the point where he now knows he will never be on the floor of the Senate again, but also knowing his vote (read: his replacement’s vote) will be needed.
I can see an argument that Massachusetts should not change the law based on the idea that laws should not be altered for political expediency. The Massachusetts law used to allow the governor to appoint someone to a vacant Senate seat but the legislature changed it when there was a faint hope that Kerry would vacate the seat to become President and the Massachusetts governor at the time was a Republican. Not that I would be persuaded in this particular case by such an argument, but it is a good one (and should have been heeded the first time around).