The Spectacle Blog

Ted Kennedy’s Class Act Another Obstacle in Getting to 60 Votes

By on 12.17.09 | 10:55AM

Even without a public option, the Senate health care bill would create a new government-run health insurance program. You may not have read much about the long-term insurance plan, which was brainchild of Ted Kennedy, but Sen. Ben Nelson continues to bring it up as a sticking point for him in not being able to vote for the health care bill, so you may be hearing more about it in the days to come.

In any other year, the creation of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act would be a big deal and subject to a major debate, but this new entitlement has largely been ignored because it was burried among the more massive entitlements within the 2,074 page Senate health care bill.

Should the health care bill become law, Americans would be enrolled in a governement-run insurance program in which they would pay premiums that would enable them to collect long-term care benefits down the road, though people would be allowed to opt out.

The program would start collecting premiums immediately but wouldn't begin paying out benefits until 2016, so it would initially run a surplus. But the Congressional Budget Office said last month that, "In the decade following 2029, the CLASS program would begin to increase budget deficits." The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that benefits doled out would exceed premiums in 2025, "resulting in a net Federal cost in the longer term."

The Washinton Post reported that Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad called it, "a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of."

While Conrad has not hinged his vote on the final bill on the CLASS Act, Nelson has consistently brought it up as one of his objections to the bill --other than abortion -- that could make it impossible for him to give Democrats their 60th vote. Unless those issues were addressed, according to the Congressional Quarterly, he said the bill was "not something I can vote for right now, and not something I can vote for cloture right now."

And when listing his beefs with the health care bill on Sunday, Sen. Joe Lieberman also brought up the program. "You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

How hard Nelson and/or Lieberman are pressing for the removal of the CLASS Act is unclear, but keep in mind how much this would be asking the party's liberals to swallow.

To them, it has the emotional appeal of its association with Kennedy.

Sen. Chris Dodd co-authored the provision with Ted Kennedy, and it is also important to Sen. Tom Harkin.

"Senator Kennedy has worked on this for years, and the couple of times that I talked to him this summer and this spring, this is what he wanted to talk to me about, about making sure that we included this in the bill," Harkin said in floor remarks defending the program. "This was his cause, to make sure that we had a program in which people could contribute, that would afford them some support if, in fact, they became disabled."

Harkin called it "the next logical step after the Americans with Disabilities Act," which he authored.

An amendment by Sen. John Thune to strip the the CLASS Act from the bill came nine votes short of the 60 it needed.

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