Ted Kennedy's Legislative Accomplishments

The senator stayed on the forefront of health care debate despite absence.

ByABC News
June 8, 2009, 4:14 PM

Aug. 26, 2009— -- Ted Kennedy's 46-year career in the Senate was marked by landmark legislations -- from health care to education and he made Congress his forum for achieving his policy goals.

"It's a great national service when we get legislators that love to legislate, not because we need more laws or bills, but how to accomplish certain public purposes, by working effectively with others, and on a bipartisan basis, and to stay with it," said Kennedy's longtime friend John Culver.

"He's always seen politics as the way grease is supplied to our system to make it work," said former Boston Globe reporter Tom Oliphant.

Visit ABC News' special section on Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Watch video of historic moments in the life of Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy made health care reform the focal point of his decades-long career. The "liberal lion of the Senate" rallied his counterparts on many occasions with rousing speeches on the subject.

For Kennedy, President Obama's ascension to the White House was an important step toward realizing his goal of health care reform. Many say Kennedy's views were closely aligned to those of Obama's.

"This is the cause of my life," Kennedy said at an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008 while endorsing then-candidate Obama. He spoke of "new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American -- North, South, East, West, young, old -- will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."

Kennedy, a longtime chair of the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called for extending Medicare coverage to all Americans, medical coverage for the uninsured and modernizing health care systems by using new technologies to cut costs. He also proposed to implement a rule that would require every American to have some form of health insurance, a point which became one of the key points of contention between Democrats and Republicans.

"We'll negotiate with insurance companies to keep premiums and co-pays low and help you with your premiums if you can't afford them," Kennedy wrote in a column published in the Boston Globe in June to push support for his plan. "We're also hearing that some Americans want the choice of enrolling in a health insurance program backed by the government for the public good, not private profit -- so that option will be available, too."

Kennedy first called for a national health care system in 1966, when he proposed an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act.

Kennedy, along with other senators, sponsored the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996.

In 1997, he rallied for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) under which uninsured children from low-income families could get insurance.

Kennedy sponsored the Family Opportunity Act of 2006, allowing states to expand Medicaid coverage to children with special needs. That same year, he voted for expanding the enrollment period for Medicare, and would later support a bill that required pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prescription drug prices covered under the same plan.

After he was diagnosed with cancer in May 2008, Kennedy was sidelined in congressional debates on health care overhaul, but, on July 9, 2008, he made a dramatic return and one of his final appearances on the Senate floor. He arrived to applause and cast one of the 69 votes to break a Republican filibuster against a bill that blocked cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Days later, then-President George W. Bush's attempt to veto the bill was overridden.

Even though he was not able to attend health care hearings on Capitol Hill because of his medical treatment Kennedy led efforts to create a sweeping overhaul of the health care bill in the Senate and to lobby the White House on new legislation. In his absence, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut took the helm of the Senate Democrats' effort to create a health care bill.

"For four decades I have carried this cause -- from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me -- and more urgency -- than ever before. But it's always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years," Kennedy wrote in a July Newsweek editorial he penned with longtime friend and speechwriter Robert Shrum.