Democrats, Republicans rejoin fight after Kennedy farewell

WASHINGTON, Jim Mannion - With bipartisan farewells to liberal lion Edward Kennedy still in the air, Democrats and Republicans rejoined the fight Sunday over the health care reform that the late senator called "the cause of my life."
The bitterly-divided US political world closed ranks during four days of mourning for Kennedy, who was buried Saturday at Arlington National Ceremony amid an outpouring of praise and remembrance for the last scion of a legendary political dynasty.

Democrats, Republicans rejoin fight after Kennedy farewell
But Kennedy's departure showed no signs of softening entrenched positions on health care, the cause dearest to the Massachusetts senator and the defining legislative challenge facing President Barack Obama.
"Obviously we've lost a great champion in all of this. But he'd be annoyed if he thought Democrats were somehow going to retreat here as the party of his choice back because he no longer with us," Senator Christopher Dodd, a Democrat of Connecticut and Kennedy intimate, said on CNN.
Kennedy, who died Tuesday at age 77 after a battle with brain cancer, was put to rest on a hillside overlooking the nation's capital, surrounded by his tightly-knit family, near the graves of his slain brothers John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
At a funeral service in Boston, Obama eulogized him as a "champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party, and the lion of the US Senate."
Dodd said he had discussed with Kennedy's widow, Victoria, the possibility of her filling Kennedy's vacant seat.
"We talk frequently, and you know, whatever Vicki wants to do, I'm in her corner -- she knows that. And she's expressed to me her own reluctance to do that, but she could change her mind, and if she did, I'm for it. I think she'd be great," he said.
The loss of a liberal leader with the clout to strike deals with his opponents was underscored by Senator Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican from Utah whose unlikely friendship with Kennedy led to notable legislative compromises.
Remembering Kennedy, Hatch reminded viewers "we fought each other all the time. But he was willing to compromise, willing to come to the center. But in many times it was center right."
"But there were certain things he wouldn't compromise on no matter what you did. And we fought battles," he said.
Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state, said: "That was the magic of Senator Kennedy because he had the faith of the party loyalists and they knew he would fight for them."
"So when he went across the aisle to cut a deal like he did with Orrin Hatch, people knew that was the best deal that could be cut," she said.
"But I think right now we still need to have this debate about the high cost of health care," Cantwell said on CNN.
Hatch said striking a deal on healthcare was "going to take a lot of work because, you know, many of the so-called progressives in the Democratic party are insisting on this public or Washington government-run plan."
"Our senior citizens are scared to death," he said.
"Plus, any taxpayer's got to be tremendously concerned because like I say we're going to triple the national debt even without health care reform."
But Cantwell defended the expansion of government health insurance -- a so-called "public option" -- as a necessary element of competition needed to control spiraling cost of private insurance.
Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, suggested on ABC there was room for compromise on the public option.
Kennedy, he said,"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, et cetera," Kerry said.
"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 said. "We have to make these changes. And he would find the best way forward."
Republican and Democratic colleagues alike lamented Kennedy's loss in a bitterly partisan time.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, praised him as a coalition builder who could set aside his personal agenda to attain larger objectives.
"One of the fundamental reasons for his success was once he gave his word, that was never broken," McCain said.
Kennedy "compromised but he was a very dominant figure," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. "And when he spoke, everybody listened. There was no question to that."

Monday, August 31st 2009
Jim Mannion

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