Kirk follows in Kennedy’s footsteps on healthcare, without the roar
If Ted Kennedy were alive, he would have been proud.
He also would have likely been counting votes.
And even raising his thunderous voice.
On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Kennedy’s temporary replacement in the U.S. Senate echoed the fallen lawmaker’s call for Democrats and Republicans to work together and finally overhaul the U.S. healthcare system.
In his first Senate speech since being sworn in last month, Paul Kirk said: “Of all the issues on which he led the Senate and our nation, the one Ted Kennedy called the cause of his life was the battle for affordable, quality health care.”
“After decades of falling short of the mark … (it) is at long last within reach,” said Kirk, who was appointed by the Massachusetts governor to fill Kennedy’s seat until a successor can be elected in a special election in January. Kennedy died of brain cancer in August.
During nearly a half century in the Senate, Kennedy was known as the “Liberal Lion” who roared in pushing legislation to help the needy.
Kirk, a former chairman of the Democratic party, did not roar. Instead, he spoke softly, almost in a monotone. But like Kennedy, he made his case.
“At this moment — when America’s families are imperiled by economic hardship and uncertainty, it provides them no comfort to see the United States Senate so politically polarized over an issue that should be bringing us together on their behalf,” Kirk said. “These crises should not be dividing this chamber, they should be uniting us.”
Kirk was quickly seated to replace Kennedy so Democrats, if they stick together, would retain the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to clear Republican procedural hurdles.
But Kirk said, “This debate should not be about one party reaching 60 votes; it should be about 100 Senators reaching out to each other to reform a health care system so that it better reflects the true values and character of our nation.”
Despite the Kennedyesque call for bipartisanship, there’s no sign of it in sweeping Democratic healthcare legislation that includes a government-run public option to compete with private insurers.
If no Republican backs it, Senate Democrats will all have to help clear the way for it to become law.
At this point, Democrats figure they are a few votes short of 60, but are hopeful of hitting it once the vote is taken.
Kennedy’s name is certain to again be invoked before the roll call begins, likely next month.
Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Senator Kennedy at National Press Club in 2007), Reuters/Molly Riley (Senator Paul Kirk listens to testimony at hearing in September)