Vacationing Obama May Meet With Sen. Kennedy

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President Obama and his family are vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. Though the president has made it clear he wants to spend this week having fun with his daughters, there are reports he will travel to Cape Cod for a visit with Senator Ted Kennedy, who is direly ill. The debate over remaking health care continues despite the president being on vacation.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The president and his family are on vacation this week on Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Obama is taking a break, perhaps, from the contentious debate over remaking health care. White House officials say the president has no official events scheduled, but there is speculation he may travel to Cape Cod for a visit with the ailing Senator Ted Kennedy.

Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning Renee, I'm so glad you are back.

MONTAGNE: Oh, thank you, it's a pleasure to be back here in Washington. How significant is Ted Kennedy's absence in the health care debate? It is such a big thing that he is not there.

ROBERTS: And it becomes a bigger thing as the debate gets more contentious. His absence is really just felt more and more; especially, ironically, among Republicans. Here's Arizona's John McCain, yesterday, on ABC's This Week.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): It's huge that he's absence, not only because of my personal affection for him, but because I think that health care reform might be in a very different place today.

ROBERTS: McCain said Kennedy always knows how to put the deal together. You know, what can go and what must stay, in legislation. But beyond that Renee, he has the clout to go back to the Democratic caucus and sell whatever he has put together. And there is not really anyone else in that position in the Democratic Party right now. So, it's hard to find the leadership that can make the deal.

MONTAGNE: Well, with Senator Kennedy, as you say, not in the debate, there are others, and not necessarily politicians, who have been working on this issue for decades, as he has. What are they saying at this point?

ROBERTS: You know, the policymakers around health care you are hearing more and more they are saying just get a bill. It doesn't really much matter that what's in the bill to start with. Because these great huge social programs always start out one way and end up expanding to make them the way that they are today. Social security, Medicare - all of those things started out much smaller than they are now. And so now when I'm hearing more and more as people saying just do something, it says no preexisting conditions will be something that keeps you from getting the insurance.

Insurance be portable, have some medical technology to help hold down cost and save lives. And there all kinds of other good ideas out there that everybody agrees on. Things like some long-term care provisions. But they need a bill in order to get passed, and so that is what I'm hearing a lot more of, is that we just have to get a bill, start in one place and end up in other. Now, that's one of the reasons that the Republicans are fighting so fiercely against having any kind of bill, because they know that whatever comes out this year will eventually be a big social program.

MONTAGNE: Well, clearly Republicans are looking at polls showing people skittish about Democratic health care proposals and less supportive of the president on the subject. Do you think scuttling any reform will work for the Republicans, in either the short term or the long term?

ROBERTS: Well, they keep talking about bipartisanship, but in truth I personally can't imagine any bill they would vote for right now, pretty much no matter what it says. Today, the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, has an op-ed in the Washington Post where he's seeking to shore up uneasiness about reform among seniors, which we are seeing more and more of. Look, the Republicans think it will work for the Democrats to have reform, in the same way that Social Security and Medicare have worked for the Democrats over decades. So, they don't want to give the Democrats that success. The only question is whether the Democrats play into their hands by insisting on some unpopular plan that they can't get passed or that barely passes and causes them trouble down the road.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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