Capitol Hill Democrats said Sunday that the best way for Congress to honor the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is to set aside partisan disputes and pass health care reform legislation, although a key Republican said he doubts any Democrat has the kind of clout to push through such an effort that Mr. Kennedy had.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that when the Senate returns next week from its late-summer break, members must “roll up our sleeves and go to work and do what Teddy would’ve done, and get this health care matter behind us.”
The Connecticut Democrat added that a lack of civility and willingness to work across party lines in the Senate - traits he said that Mr. Kennedy had mastered - was holding back the chamber.
“There are differences. You bring that partisanship to the table, but you work out your differences,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press. “That’s what we were elected to do. That’s what Teddy understood adamantly about the place.”
But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said he doesn’t think any Democrat in Congress has the personality to step forward to broker a health care deal, as many had expected Mr. Kennedy to do.
“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,” said Mr. Hatch on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “You see this in health care.”
Mr. Hatch, a close friend of Mr. Kennedy, said the Massachusetts Democrat would have realized that many of the health care provisions demanded by his party’s base were politically unworkable, such as a government-run “public option” plan, employer and employee mandates, and what he characterized as an eventual shift to a total government takeover of the nation’s health care system.
“Kennedy would know that a number of those things can’t be done in a bipartisan way,” Mr. Hatch said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, spoke similarly, noting that Mr. Kennedy’s legitimacy with the party’s liberal base ensured that any proposal with his name on it was at least acceptable.
“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,” Miss Cantwell said on CNN. “And so when he went across the aisle to cut a deal with Orrin Hatch, as he did on the children’s health care initiative, or other policy, people knew that that was the best deal that could be cut.”
Sen. John Kerry, however, disagreed with the notion that Mr. Kennedy’s death would derail the late senator’s career-long passion for health care reform.
“His cause of a lifetime - health care and other issues of great importance, global climate change, others - will not be adversely impacted by the absence of [his] vote, and that’s critical,” the fellow Massachusetts Democrat said on “Meet the Press.”
Mr. Kerry added that if his Senate colleagues “just stay focused on why we’re here, then we’ll honor him.”
Mr. Dodd, who in recent months has served as temporary chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee while Mr. Kennedy was absent for health reasons, said he thinks Congress can overcome its deep differences and pass health care reform legislation.
“If we can get these bills together and sit down with each other, we can produce a strong, vibrant, vitally needed national health care reform legislation of accessibility, [and] of course, quality and affordability,” he said on “Meet the Press.”
Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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