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Kennedy left his mark on health care
Debate over health reform paused Wednesday, as the nation remembered Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who died overnight at his home in Hyannis Port, after losing a fight with brain cancer. He was 77.

Sen. Kennedy’s family issued a statement saying, “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever...He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it.”

President Barack Obama took a break from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to praise Sen. Kennedy’s leadership. “His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives,” said the president. Read the full statement.

Kennedy was a pivotal figure not only in Congress, but particularly on health care. He was an ardent supporter of health care reform and continued to closely follow the debate, even though his condition prevented him from being in Washington this summer. Kennedy chaired the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and in his absence, Kennedy asked his colleague Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to lead the committee’s health reform efforts.

It remains to be seen how Sen. Kennedy’s passing will affect the outcome of health reform. He was widely regarded as a pragmatic leader, who could broker agreements and move legislation forward against long odds. “In losing Kennedy, Obama loses a key Senate dealmaker at a crucial moment in legislative negotiations over the health care bill,” reports USA TODAY.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently told ABC News that “Ted Kennedy comes as close to being indispensable as any individual I’ve ever known in the Senate because he had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions.”

However, Roll Call called Kennedy’s passing “anticlimactic,” noting that “Kennedy’s absence from the health care debate was evident as early as April.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed “Ted Kennedy’s dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year.”

And the inside-the-beltway publication, Politico, put it like this: “Operatives on both sides of the debate will have to readjust their strategies and consider how to calibrate their messages so they fit within the Kennedy narrative that is sure to drive coverage for coming days. In short, the landscape has now shifted and everyone is scrambling to understand the new playing field.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick must set a date for primary and general elections to name Kennedy’s successor, although Kennedy had suggested that state law should be changed so that his successor could be appointed immediately. It’s widely believed that Democrats would hold the edge in any election.

Vacation politics
In other health reform news, before President Obama left Washington to begin his vacation, he recorded his weekly radio and Internet address, in which he confronted what he called “outrageous myths” about health reform. Read a transcript.

“(Health reform) should be an honest debate, not one dominated by willful misrepresentations and outright distortions,” said the president, who in recent weeks launched a Web site called “Health Insurance Reform Reality Check.

Republicans countered this week, unveiling a “bill of rights for seniors” and alleging that health reform will make life harder for older Americans. Read an op-ed from the Republican National Committee chairman.

Bipartisan politics
In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., says his committee's bipartisan bill is "on track." "Bipartisan progress continues," he said in a statement. "The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate. Our group will be meeting, and our staffs continue to meet as well. I am confident we will continue our steady progress toward health care reform that will lower costs and provide quality, affordable coverage to all Americans."

Soon afterward, the ranking Republican on the committee, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, issued a statement, too: "I've said all year that something as big and important as health care legislation should have broad-based support," Grassley said. "So far, no one has developed that kind of support, either in Congress or at the White House. That doesn't mean we should quit. It means we should keep working until we can put something together that gets that widespread support."

Meanwhile, liberal Democrats have been agitating for the House and Senate to prepare to pass a Democrats-only bill. They argue that Republicans have spoken so forcefully against reforms during the August break that it's clear they have no intention of cooperating on a bill.

But even a Democrats-only bill would take further negotiation, since there probably aren't 60 Democrats in the Senate willing to vote for the bills proposed so far. Baucus has given his committee a deadline of Sept. 15 to produce a bipartisan bill. After that, Democrats might go it alone.

Crabby Politics
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, recently blasted his former House colleague Billy Tauzin, now the head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. In a letter, Boehner criticized PhRMA's decision to negotiate an $80 billion deal with the Obama administration, comparing it to negotiating with a lunch room bully.

Boehner wrote, "At your behest, PhRMA has chosen to accommodate a Washington takeover of health care at the expense of the American people in hopes of securing favorable treatment and future profits. It's a short-sighted bargain that leaves your own customers and employees behind. And it now has all the markings of a deal gone sour...Big Government is changing the terms...because it can."

Boehner concluded, "PhRMA would do well to halt this short-sighted, misguided campaign and listen to the American people, rather than continue to collaborate on an effort to spin them."

Read the letter here. It's a remarkable picture of the health care battle. As the publication The Hill wrote, "Boehner's frustration with Tauzin and PhRMA seeps out of practically every word of his letter. Outrage has been swelling in Republican ranks for months, as PhRMA and other erstwhile GOP allies in the health care and business community continue to support Obama's push for health care reform - or at least refuse to aid Republican efforts to scuttle it."

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