August 31, 2009 in Nation/World

Kennedy evoked on health

Democrats urge civil, bipartisan debate
Stephen Ohlemacher Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Democrats evoked memories of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Sunday in calling for a civil debate over plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system. A key Republican said Kennedy’s death leaves Democrats without a leader capable of forging a bipartisan compromise.

Kennedy was long known as a personable senator who could engage in a blistering partisan debate one day and strike a deal with his adversaries the next. The liberal Democrat repeatedly worked with conservative Republicans to pass major legislation, including programs to expand health care coverage for children.

His absence, Democrats said, would be felt as lawmakers struggle to craft legislation aimed at cutting costs while providing coverage to the nearly 50 million Americans who lack it.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said lawmakers who want to honor the late senator should “put behind us the blistering days of August, enter the cool days of September, and start acting like senators again.”

Many members of Congress have spent much of the August recess locked in a fierce debate over health care.

Dodd and other lawmakers close to Kennedy appeared on Sunday morning news shows to remember the senator a day after his funeral Mass in Boston and his burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Kennedy’s absence hurts the chances of Congress passing a health care plan.

“There is no other Democrat who could carry the base of the Democratic Party and get them to do what really has to be done in a compromise situation,” Hatch said. “He was able to acknowledge that he couldn’t get everything he wanted through, but if he worked with us, he could get some things that were good. And, of course, I had to do the same.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., praised Kennedy’s ability to reach compromises on major pieces of legislation.

“That was the magic of Sen. Kennedy, because he had the faith of the party loyalists, and they knew that he would always fight for them,” Cantwell said. “And so when he went across the aisle to cut a deal … people knew that that was the best deal that could be cut.”

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