Dems invoke the ‘Kennedy Card’ to defend Obamacare in wake of failing CLASS Act

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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House Democrats worked to tug on the heartstrings Wednesday, playing to the “Kennedy card” several times while defending Obamacare in a congressional hearing. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who passed away in 2009, called socialized medicine “the cause of my life.”

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, were holding a joint hearing on the failures of Obamacare’s Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act.

The CLASS Act was supposed to be the part of Obamacare that provided a public “long-term care” option. It was also supposed to be financially self-sustaining. Conservative allegations that the CLASS Act was not financially self-sustaining were confirmed a little over a week ago when President Obama’s Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the administration will not be implementing the CLASS Act because it is not financially solvent and, Sebelius said, it has no “viable path forward.”

Republicans view the CLASS Act’s failure as a major victory in the fight against Obamacare — and point to it as a “gimmick” used to make the president’s signature legislation look less expensive.

As the CLASS Act, and Obamacare in its entirety, came under fire yet again in Wednesday’s hearing, Democrats turned to the “Kennedy card” as one of their most frequent defenses.

Former Rhode Island Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy even came back to Congress to defend the CLASS Act, a “key priority” of his father — former Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy testified as part of special hearing panel that included Louisiana Republican Rep. Charles Boustany, Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg and Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch. The other panel that testified before the subcommittee consisted of two senior Obama administration officials, who were present to defend the CLASS Act.

Texas Democratic Rep. Gene Green offered glowing remarks for the late senator’s son, and thanked Patrick Kennedy for Ted Kennedy’s work in Congress. “I want to particularly welcome our former colleague Patrick Kennedy. Patrick, we worked together on lots of mental health issues over the years and I want to thank you for your service to the American people, and particularly to your district in Rhode Island,” Green said before defending Obamacare. “But, also I want to thank you for the service of your father. Without your father’s work in the Senate, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to list the issues that would not be in the law today, including the CLASS Act. [I want] just to generally thank you for the service of your family — I think all of us thank you for that.”

Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky cited Patrick Kennedy in her comments, too. “As former Representative Kennedy said, repealing the CLASS Act doesn’t mean that the widespread financial, physical and emotional suffering of older and disabled Americans goes away,” Schakowsky said as she questioned an Obama administration Health and Human Services official.

Right before accusing Republicans of turning the now-failed CLASS Act into a “political football,” Florida Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor invoked Kennedy rhetoric: “I’m going to borrow Patrick Kennedy’s language of a ‘Demographic Tsunami,’” Castor said, referring to issues she thinks exist in the long-term healthcare industry.

Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch cited Ted Kennedy’s “dream” in his comments to the committee. Deutch isn’t a member of the Energy and Commerce committee, but appeared with Patrick Kennedy, Rehberg and Boustany on the opening special panel. “Senator Kennedy eloquently captured how our long-term care system is failing the American people when he said, ‘too often, they have to give up the American Dream — the dignity of a job, a home, and a family — so they can qualify for Medicaid, the only program that will support them,’” Deutch said in prepared testimony.

Even Patrick Kennedy played the Kennedy card. In his testimony, he cited his father’s work on the CLASS Act and how his father was deathly ill while working on finishing the legislation. “Our family was very fortunate,” Patrick Kennedy said in his prepared testimony. “We had the resources to provide my father with any long-term services and supports that he needed as he approached the end of his life — but he knew that most working families are not as fortunate. The inclusion of the long-term care infrastructure (CLASS) in health care reform was a signature issue for my father.”

“Even before he became ill, my father saw a need for an alternative solution, realizing that for persons with disabilities and older Americans, long-term services and supports are their primary unmet care need, and that while 45 million Americans lack medical insurance, 200 million adult Americans lack any insurance protection against the costs of these services,” Patrick Kennedy added.

Republican Rehberg, in his testimony, said the Democrats’ testimonies were political spin. Rehberg, who is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, hit the Democrats for hiding the damage caused by the CLASS Act underneath political games.

“Once we stripped away the political spin, brushed off budget gimmicks and cut through the bureaucratic jungle, we saw a foundation pillar [the CLASS Act] of the president’s healthcare law for what it really was: truly a Ponzi scheme that apparently was included in the bill solely to help the bill appear deficit-neutral,” Rehberg said.

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