By Frank Quaratiello
It looks like the fix is in on national health-care reform - and it all may unfold on Beacon Hill.
At a business forum in Boston Friday, interim Sen. Paul Kirk predicted that Congress would pass a health-care reform bill this month.
“We want to get this resolved before President Obama’s State of the Union address in early to mid-February,” Kirk told reporters at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
The longtime aide and confidant of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who was handpicked by Gov. Deval Patrick after a controversial legal change to hold Kennedy’s seat, vowed to vote for the bill even if Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, who opposes the health-care reform legislation, prevails in a Jan. 19 special election.
“Absolutely,” Kirk said, when asked if he’d vote for the bill, even if Brown captures the seat. “It would be my responsibility as United States senator, representing the people and understanding Senator Kennedy’s agenda. . . . I think you’re asking me a hypothetical question but I’d be pleased to vote for the bill.”
Few have considered the Jan. 19 election as key to the fate of national health-care reform because both Kirk and front-runner state Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic nominee, have vowed to uphold Kennedy’s legacy and support health-care reform.
But if Brown wins, the entire national health-care reform debate may hinge on when he takes over as senator. Brown has vowed to be the crucial 41st vote in the Senate that would block the bill.
The U.S. Senate ultimately will schedule the swearing-in of Kirk’s successor, but not until the state certifies the election.
Friday, a spokesman for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, who is overseeing the election but did not respond to a call seeking comment, said certification of the Jan. 19 election by the Governor’s Council would take a while.
“Because it’s a federal election,” spokesman Brian McNiff said. “We’d have to wait 10 days for absentee and military ballots to come in.”
Another source told the Herald that Galvin’s office has said the election won’t be certified until Feb. 20 - well after the president’s address.
Since the U.S. Senate doesn’t meet again in formal session until Jan. 20, Bay State voters will have made their decision before a vote on health-care reform could be held. But Kirk and Galvin’s office said Friday a victorious Brown would be left in limbo.
In contrast, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell) was sworn in at the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 18, 2007, just two days after winning a special election to replace Martin Meehan. In that case, Tsongas made it to Capitol Hill in time to override a presidential veto of the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Friday, Brown, who has been closing the gap with Coakley in polls and fund raising, blasted the political double standard.
“This is a stunning admission by Paul Kirk and the Beacon Hill political machine,” said Brown in a statement. “Paul Kirk appears to be suggesting that he, Deval Patrick, and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid intend to stall the election certification until the health care bill is rammed through Congress, even if that means defying the will of the people of Massachusetts. As we’ve already seen from the backroom deals and kickbacks cut by the Democrats in Washington, they intend to do anything and everything to pass their controversial health care plan. But threatening to ignore the results of a free election and steal this Senate vote from the people of Massachusetts takes their schemes to a whole new level. Martha Coakley should immediately disavow this threat from one of her campaign’s leading supporters.”
A spokeswoman for Coakley’s campaign declined to comment Friday.
Head nod to Sweetness & Light:
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