Aug. 26, 2009— -- Democrats are hoping that the memory of Sen. Ted Kennedy will revive the Democratic Party's flagging push for health care reform.
"You've heard of 'win one for the Gipper'? There is going to be an atmosphere of 'win one for Teddy,'" Ralph G. Neas, the CEO of the liberal National Coalition on Health Care, told ABC News.
Democrats are hoping that Kennedy's influence in death may be even stronger than it was when he was alive as they push for President Obama's top domestic priority. Democratic officials hope that invoking Kennedy's passion for the issue will counter slippage in support for heatlh care reform.
"Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement.
Pelosi's sentiment was echoed by former vice president Al Gore who served with Kennedy in the Senate.
"Ted would want nothing more than for his colleagues to continue his life's work and to make real his dream of quality health care for all Americans," said Gore.
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To infuse Kennedy into the health-care debate, Democrats are planning to affix the former senator's name to the health-care legislation that emerges from Congress.
The idea of naming the legislation for Kennedy has been quietly circulating for months but was given a new push today by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the only person who served with Kennedy for all his 47 years in the Senate.
"In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American," Byrd said.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Pensions Committee chaired by Kennedy, has been the panel's point person on health-care reform in Kennedy's absence. Today Dodd said that he hopes Kennedy's death will revive a spirit of bipartisanship.
Sen. Ted Kennedy Invokes in Health Care Fight
"Maybe Teddy's passing will remind people again, we are there with a job to do," said Dodd on a conference call with reporters.
Throughout this summer's health-care debate, Republicans who have worked with Kennedy in the past have said that his absence has been felt in the current debate.
"It's huge that he's absent, not only because of my personal affection for him, but because I think the health care reform might be in a very different place today," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday.
Despite personal tributes to Kennedy made by Republicans like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch who recorded a song in his memory, there have been no tangible signs that Kennedy's death will prompt the GOP to meet the Democrats half way on health-care reform.
"The Left is exploiting him – his death and his legacy – and they are going to do it, as predicted, to push health care through," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners today.
"No matter where you watch television today – even if you turn on FOX – you are going to get the syrupy - everything they say is going to be predictable: let's put aside our differences for today and respect the great work and achievements of Sen. Kennedy," Limbaugh added. " I am going to vomit and puke all over everyone with this analysis today."
Conservatives for Patients Rights, a group which has been on television for months trying to defeat a government insurance option, announced today that it was halting "indefinitely" its television ad campaign. The group's spokesman, however, told ABC News that it expects to return to the airwaves following Kennedy's burial.
Can Kennedy Unite Senate in Health Care Fight?
Given the depth of differences between the parties on health-care reform, as well as the belief on the part of conservatives like the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes that the GOP has benefited from a strategy of "pure opposition" to Obama, the real question raised by Kennedy's death is whether it can help rally fellow Democrats who have wavered on certain aspects of health-care reform such as a public insurance option.
"The real question is what lesson do they take from it?" asked ABC's Cokie Roberts, a long-time Capitol Hill watcher, during an appearance today on ABCNews.com's "Top Line." "Do they take the lesson of the actual Ted Kennedy, the man who would probably be saying at this point, 'Let's just get a bill . . . we can add to it later. We can worry about a public option and all of that stuff later. Let's just do something that helps a whole lot of people now and then we can add to it.'"
"The other lesson they might take," she added, "is to go with the liberal lion and say, 'Oh, we can't compromise at all in which case they could easily end up with no bill."
ABC News' Jacqueline Klingebiel, David Chalian, Rick Klein, Jonathan Karl and Elizabeth Gorman contributed to this report.