"What Would Teddy Do?" Pushing Kennedy's Lifelong Goal of Government Health Care

Reporter Mark Leibovich, who specializes in snotty profiles of Republican pols (Sen. Jim Bunning "a bit of a screwball") and fawning looks at Democrats (Sen. Chris Dodd is a "happy warrior" in a "joyous orbit"), was in full fawn mode in his Friday tribute to the ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy: "Kennedy's Voice Absent But Still Resonating In Talks on Health Bill."

As a divided Senate tangles over health care legislation, there is bipartisan consensus on one point:Ted Kennedy could make a big difference, if only he were here.

SenatorTom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Mr. Harkin's Republican counterparts similarly invoked Mr. Kennedy in criticizing a health care measure the committee approved Wednesday with only Democratic support. "It is a very one-sided, very liberal bill," said SenatorOrrin G. Hatchof Utah. "I know that Ted would not have done that had he been able to be here."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, has not been on Capitol Hill since April. Colleagues routinely lament his absence, which has been especially painful to Mr. Kennedy, the committee chairman, who has spent much of his career trying to expand health coverage.

People close to Mr. Kennedy marvel at how his fight for his life could coincide so dramatically with what may be the culminating summer of his life's cause. "It's been a miraculous story," said SenatorChristopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut....As his health has declined, Mr. Kennedy has become more of an inspirational leader than a tangible one. He turned over his day-to-day committee duties to Mr. Dodd in the spring. Mr. Dodd called him Tuesday night to tell him the health committee, known as HELP, would pass the health bill - whose centerpiece is a government-run insurance plan - the next day. "I called about 8:15, and he was already asleep," Mr. Dodd said. Mr. Kennedy called back at 7 a.m. Wednesday sounding thrilled....Similarly, members of the health committee, particularly Democrats, often speak in terms of "What would Teddy do?" SenatorPatty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said. "We're all working to do what we think he'd want us to do."....Some hold out hope that Mr. Kennedy can make a last-ditch appeal to his Republican friends - a kind of dying wish - to support the legislation so he can complete his life's work.

Whatever his friends and colleagues in the Senate think of Kennedy and his liberal legislative career, it would be reckless to pass legislation that will effect the personal health choices of all Americanssimply as a way tohonor a senator.