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Teddy’s Dream Is America’s Nightmare

Invoking the memory of the "liberal lion" on health care reform reminds us of the massive government spending supported by the late senator.

by
Andy Wickersham

Bio

December 30, 2009 - 12:00 am

Following the Christmas Eve passage of the Senate Democrats’ health care reform bill, Harry Reid said, “This vote brings us one step closer to making Ted Kennedy’s dream a reality.” Many Americans would contrastingly characterize the potential passage and implementation of this legislation as more of a nightmare. But one thing on which both critics and supporters of ObamaCare may be able to agree is that invoking the name of the late senator from Massachusetts in connection with the passage of a piece of legislation as incompatible with free-market principles and notions of individual liberty as ObamaCare is altogether fitting and proper.

While campaigning against Kennedy in the spring of 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter stated that “Senator Kennedy is well known as the largest spender perhaps in the history of the United States Senate.” Though Carter’s statement was made thirty years ago and nearly three decades prior to Kennedy’s death, it is hard to improve on it in describing Kennedy’s affinity for big government.

According to the National Taxpayers Union’s BillTally, which tracks the amount of spending proposed by members of Congress via the bills they sponsor or cosponsor, no one serving for more than two years in the Senate from 2001 to 2008 proposed more spending than Ted Kennedy. During those dreaded “last eight years,” no senator was more willing to part with the generous — though involuntary — donations of American taxpayers to the U.S. Treasury than Kennedy.

According to BillTally, at least 1.9 trillion dollars would have been added to the federal deficit had all of the legislation that Kennedy sponsored or cosponsored during the Bush years passed. Kennedy’s average proposed net spending totals per year were over four and a half times the average for senators who had served in at least three of these four Congresses, and Kennedy managed to propose 41 percent more spending than the second biggest spender in the Senate during this period, West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller.

Though Republicans have taken a lot of heat for their spending habits over this period and deservedly so, it is important to note that no Republican senator came close to Kennedy’s proposed spending totals during this period. In the 107th Congress (2001 – 2002) Texas’ John Cornyn managed to propose more spending than Kennedy (ranking one spot higher than Kennedy for that Congress), but he was the only Republican senator in any of these four Congresses to do so. Though Olympia Snowe’s total proposed spending figure for this period of 392 billion dollars is anything but admirable, it pales in comparison to the liberal lion’s breathtaking total of nearly 2 trillion dollars.

The hypocrisy and/or ignorance of those that view Kennedy’s impact on America in positive terms is thus astounding given that these are the same people who have been so critical of the way things were done in Washington during the Bush years. I guess the spending is okay if the one doing the spending roars loud enough.

The admiration of the left for Kennedy’s legislative record is summed up well by two of his long-time Senate friends. Kennedy’s friend Senator Chris Dodd said of him:

I will always remember Teddy as the ultimate example for all of us who seek to serve, a hero for those Americans in the shadow of life who so desperately needed one.

Senator Robert Byrd shared similar sentiments regarding his long-time friend:

Throughout his career, Senator Kennedy believed in a simple premise: that our society’s greatness lies in our ability and willingness to provide for its less fortunate members. Whether striving to increase the minimum wage, insuring that all children have medical insurance, or securing better access to higher education, Senator Kennedy always showed that he cared deeply for those whose needs exceed their political clout.

But as is the case with ObamaCare, the substance falls well short of the rhetoric. The reality is that, at best, Ted Kennedy’s legislative approach was summed up by John Adams when he said:

[P]ower always thinks that it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws.

Though the inaccuracies spouted by Democrats about their health care reform proposals have been many, the invoking of the name of Ted Kennedy in support of them has been completely on point. No one epitomized the mendacious approach to lawmaking that is the Democrats’ push for ObamaCare more than Ted Kennedy. Though liberal America saw Kennedy as a champion for the poor and the downtrodden, the truth is that he was a politician who was emblematic of much that is wrong with Washington, and as such the mention of his name in connection with a model piece of dreadful big government legislation like ObamaCare is indeed fitting.

Andy Wickersham has a master's in public policy from Claremont Graduate University. He is the former producer of a prominent Southern California land development publication.
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