Lion of Senate sidelined, union agenda stalls

Kennedy’s Absence Delays Bargaining Over Pro-Union Bills

The prospects for action on several pieces of legislation dimmed Monday as it became apparent that Edward M. Kennedy ’s hospitalization will prevent him from returning before the Memorial Day recess.

Kennedy’s unexpected absence from the Senate has extinguished hopes of passing a bill that would extend collective-bargaining rights to public safety employees (HR 980) and of resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of a major higher education overhaul (HR 4137, S 1642) before the weeklong break that begins May 23.

As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Kennedy was a hands-on negotiator on those bills and others.

“He’s an important part of closing deals,” said a former Kennedy aide. “So if they weren’t closed, then they might have to wait for his return.”

The 76-year-old Massachusetts Democrat was admitted to a Boston hospital May 17 after having a seizure at his Cape Cod home.

Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., had hoped that Kennedy and the committee’s ranking Republican, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, could agree on a limited number of amendments to the collective-bargaining bill and allow the chamber to pass the measure this week.

But by Monday, with Kennedy still in the hospital, negotiators were looking for more time.

“Staff-level negotiations will continue, but any serious movement will take place after the Memorial Day recess,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Now we have a little more time to iron out the differences ... and reach an agreement.”

Reid suspended action on the bill May 15 after it became apparent that Republican objections would prevent the measure from garnering the 60 votes required to cut off debate.

The bill, which drew fire from Enzi and other Republicans because Reid bypassed the committee process to bring it to the floor, would give state and local public safety officials, including police and firefighters, the right to unionize in any municipality with a population that exceeds 5,000.

It was unclear late Monday exactly when Kennedy would be back to work, but an aide seemed to foreclose the possibility that it would be this week, saying Kennedy would likely remain in the hospital for several days and would then “take a few days off at home before returning to the Senate.”

Doctors are still trying to determine the cause of Kennedy’s seizure, but said May 17 that he was “not in any immediate danger” and that preliminary tests indicated that he had not suffered a stroke.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, declined to comment Monday on whether Reid and other Senate leaders would defer to Kennedy or delegate responsibilities to other senators until his return.

Reid said Monday that he has spoken several times with Kennedy’s wife, Victoria, and was optimistic that Kennedy’s health would not sideline him for too long.

“Anyone who knows Ted Kennedy and his work ethic realizes that no one is more eager to get back to work than him,” Reid said.

Legislation On Hold

Even before Kennedy’s weekend health troubles, the outlook for a quick deal on the long-term renewal of the Higher Education Act was uncertain, though Kennedy and the lead House negotiator, Rep. George Miller , D-Calif., had hoped to clear a final bill before the Memorial Day recess. (Story, p. 9)

With Kennedy out of the picture, that outlook was downgraded to virtually impossible.

Differences still to be worked out, according to those close to the debate, include textbook costs and new penalties for states that diminish their contributions to higher education.

Negotiations on a Kennedy bill to increase the use of information technology in health care (S 1693) also could languish in the chairman’s absence.

The bill overcame a major hurdle last week, when Kennedy and Enzi, his chief co-sponsor, agreed to accept an amendment by Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., that Leahy believes will strengthen privacy protections in the legislation.

The bill would provide grants and loans to health providers to buy the technology to share medical records electronically, and would encourage the health care industry to settle on software and hardware standards for electronic medical records.

However, aides noted that the legislation was not going to be ready for the floor until sometime in June.

A Senate GOP aide said the revised bill, with Leahy’s language, was being circulated among Senate offices this week to determine whether there was any remaining opposition to the measure.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sal Roselli,do not sell us out.Return our six million dollars,which you have diverted to out of the state accounts and from there to heaven knows where?You are as crook as Andy Stern,John Sweeney,Anna Berger and whole skunk team.

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