Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Ted Kennedy you may not know

Ted Kennedy:"The task of leadership in 1980 is not to parade scapegoats or to seek refuge in reaction, but to match our power to the possibilities of progress. While others talked of free enterprise, it was the Democratic Party that acted and we ended excessive regulation in the airline and trucking industry, and we restored competition to the marketplace. And I take some satisfaction that this deregulation legislation that I sponsored and passed in the Congress of the United States."Steve Early:In several key industries—trucking, the airlines, and telecom--nothing has undermined union membership and bargaining power more than de-regulation. Kennedy embraced de-regulation with gusto and, despite his other differences with Jimmy Carter thirty years ago, helped ram through industry restructuring harmful to hundreds of thousands of workers and their union contracts. By 1985, as Kim Moody describes in U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition, the number of workers covered by the Teamsters' biggest trucking contract had been halved. Today, fewer than 100,000 work under the National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA)—down from 450,000 before Carter and Kennedy transformed the role of the Interstate Commerce Commission and codified that regulatory change via the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. The business-backed policy agenda "that would become known as ‘Reaganomics' or more generally as neoliberalism," had its roots in the Carter Administration, Moody points out. Two of its key objectives were deregulation and free trade; the first having been accomplished under Carter, the second was pursued with equal fervor and Kennedy vigor after Clinton became president.


In a cover piece for Newsweek last month, entitled "The Cause of My Life," Kennedy proudly recalled his backing for Medicare in 1965. After that vote, he continued to advocate expanded public health insurance coverage for another decade or so. But just as more Americans—like the NYNEX strikers in 1989—began to gravitate toward his "Medicare for all" position, Kennedy abandoned it. As he explained in Newsweek, "I came to believe that we'd have to give up on the idea of a government run, single-payer system if we wanted to get universal care."


In 1993, Kennedy embraced Hillary Clinton's ill-fated "managed competition" plan, helping to deflate grassroots organizing for social insurance instead. He did lend his name to a 2006 bill to expand Medicare coverage but devoted most of his time, lately, to promoting the Massachusetts model of subsidized private insurance coverage, which utilizes individual and employer mandates to prop up our dysfunctional system of job-based benefits. Cooked up as a bi-partisan solution with Republican governor Mitt Romney (who now criticizes the Massachusetts plan), this budget-busting scheme is the current inspiration for "Obamacare."

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