The late Senator Ted Kennedy, who was a long-time advocate for U.S. healthcare reform, is watching over Congress this week, President Barack Obama said, as it moves to take the last steps on legislation to  revamp the massive health industry.

“Today, of course, we all feel the heavy absence of one of our greatest Irish-Americans; a man who loved this day so much; a man who I believe is still watching this body closely, particularly this week — and that is our beloved Ted Kennedy,” Obama said.

The president remembered the famed Democratic politician at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill that was attended by Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and son Patrick, a U.S. representative from Rhode Island.

Kennedy, who died in August, had called providing affordable healthcare coverage to all Americans “the cause of my life.” He spent decades laying the groundwork to overhaul the healthcare system, helped draft a preliminary bill, and had urged Obama to make it his top domestic priority.

Obama’s bid to overhaul healthcare was dealt a near-fatal blow in January when Republican Scott Brown scored a huge upset in a special election to fill the Senate seat that Kennedy had held for almost five decades.  Brown had campaigned relentlessly against the Democrat’s healthcare proposals.