Remembrances shift to reform debate

The remembrances of Edward Kennedy continued Sunday morning, but his former colleagues also began to debate the impact his absence would have on the looming fight over health care reform, which long had been Kennedy’s political crusade.

Democrats said they would continue to fight for a public option but also struck a conciliatory tone and noted Kennedy's own record of working with Republicans despite a fierce loyalty to his party.

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Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Kennedy would have fought for a larger government role in health care coverage. But Kerry also indicated that in the end Democrats may bend on that issue, which has been part of the source of the public outrage and concern expressed at town halls this month.

“He would fight for it, and he would do everything in his power to get it, just like he did for the minimum wage or like he did for children's health care,” Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“But if he didn't see the ability to be able to get it done, he would not throw the baby out with the bathwater. He would not say no to anything because we have to reduce the cost.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who along with Kerry memorialized Kennedy during a service on Friday night at the JFK Presidential Library, said Kennedy, despite being the leading liberal in Congress, would nevertheless have reached across the aisle to strike a deal on health care reform.

"We did dozens and dozens of landmark pieces of legislation [together]. A lot of it was because he was able to acknowledge that he couldn’t get everything he wanted through," Hatch said during “Face the Nation.” “The base doesn’t want to give in on the government-run plan, that’s a big part of it ... Kennedy would have known a number of those things couldn't be done in a bipartisan way."

Appearing with Hatch on CNN's State of the Union, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) invoked Kennedy's memory to express a hope for a return of comity in the Senate and for compromise on health care reform.

"I think Orrin and I will get back next week in the Senate, and we've got to roll up our sleeves and go to work and do what Teddy would've done, and get this health care matter behind us."

"The country cannot afford this any longer," Dodd said of the current health care system. "We need to have a health care plan in this country that's accessible, affordable, and quality. And how we get there is the challenge before us. And we must meet that challenge. That's what Ted cared so deeply about."

All three also continued to memorialize Kennedy, who died last Tuesday after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.

On NBC's Meet the Press, Kerry, who is now the senior senator for Massachusetts, called Kennedy a "very astute legislator."

"He was superb as a tactician and a strategist," Kerry said. But Kennedy also showed Kerry that it was possible to be a serious lawmaker without acting so seriously all the time.

"Teddy showed me ... that all politics is personal," Kerry said. "It is personal and you out to have fun doing it. I learned how to have fun because of Ted Kennedy."

His voice cracking, Dodd remembered Kennedy's ability to overcome the various tragedies in his life, which included the violent deaths of his three old brothers and cancer scares for two of his children.

"His ability to overcome adversity was stunning to me," Dodd said.