WASHINGTON — Securing universal health-care coverage for Americans was a decades-long quest that eluded Sen. Edward Kennedy. In the wake of his death, however, several key Democrats saw a chance to break what has become this year's stalemate by invoking his legacy and last wishes.
"In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health-care reform, which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said in a statement.
"The passion of his life was health-care reform," House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said.
"Above all else he would want us to redouble our efforts to achieve it."
However, it was also likely that without Kennedy, a deal would be even harder to get.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, who worked closely with Kennedy on education legislation in 2001, said last month that "the thing I got to learn about Ted Kennedy is that he's a legislator. ... He wants to sit down and work out the details."
Boehner said there was "no question" Kennedy's absence had affected the health-care debate in Congress. "He would have been a big help, I think, to the president."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who worked with Kennedy to expand children's health coverage and who has broken with his own party on stem-cell research issues, similarly recalled recently how he thought Kennedy would have handled the health care impasse.
"The first thing he would have done would have been to call me and say, 'Let's work this out,' and we would work it out so that the best of both worlds would work," Hatch said.