Ted Kennedy is remembered as one of the most effective Senators in the history of the Senate. He authored over 2,500 bills, of which 500 became law. Many of Kennedy’s most important bills came about after the 1980s, when the presidency was occupied by Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George Bush and the Congress was frequently had Republican majorities. Kennedy was able to be an effective Senator during those more conservative times because of his ability to collaborate with Republican colleagues on such items as health coverage, educations reform, and immigration reform. One of his greatest collaborators is his friend and political opposite, Orrin Hatch.
It was an unlikely friendship. Orrin Hatch came into the Senate specifically to fight everything that Kennedy stood for. They worked together often in the Senate Labor, Judiciary, and other committees, and they often clashed, as would be expected from any meeting between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican. Hatch mentioned that one could tell how vehement an argument was by how much smoke Kennedy was blowing towards Hatch, who frequently got headaches from Kennedy’s cigars.
In spite of this, they eventually became good friends. Hatch wrote in an article in the August 27, 2009 edition of Newsweek magazine:
“We disagreed on nearly every issue, and continued to do so for all the years we served together in the Senate. But to our mutual surprise, during our service on the Senate Labor, Judiciary, and other committees, we soon realized that we could work well together. If the two of us—positioned as we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum—could find common ground, we had little trouble enlisting bipartisan support to pass critical legislation that benefited millions of Americans.
…Amid our constant fighting and occasional compromises, we also became close friends—a friendship that endeared us to some and enraged others who felt a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat should not be friends. For our part, we checked our political differences and egos at the door when we socialized. We were good friends, plain and simple—and neither pettiness nor others’ opinions came between us.”
Over the years, Kennedy and Hatch worked on many bills that helped millions of Americans with their health coverage, helped AIDs victims receive needed care, and fought discrimination. Among the major bills that Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch collaborated on were these:
The Orphan Drug Act , which provided tax credits for encouraging the development of medicines for rare diseases.
The Ryan White Aids Act, which established a federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS, with an emphasis on providing funding to improve availability of care for low-income, uninsured, and under-insured victims of AIDS and their families.
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provided health insurance to thousands of the working poor across our country.
The Mammography Standards in 1992
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which provided individual protections from discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
The FDA Revitalization Act of 2007, which addressed many critical issues including the need to provide proper incentives and support for the development and review of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and the need for heightened efforts to assure the safety of medications.
The PDUFA, a program that created drug user fees to help expedite the approval of new drugs. This legislation continues to be reauthorized.
The Health Centers Renewal Act of 2007, which reauthorized the health center program for five more years and provided people with essential health care services.
The FDAMA – FDA Modernization Act of 1997, which regulated prescription drug advertising, food safety, and codified the requirements for access to life saving medicines.
The Bioshield Legislation, which increased federal, state, and local infrastructure for bioterrorism preparedness.
The last collaboration between the two senators was the Serve America Act, which renewed America’s call for volunteer service to meet some of our country’s most challenging problems and needs. David Broder wrote an article in the April 13, 2009 edition of the Washington Post Weekly that chronicles this last collaboration. He wrote:
“Early last year, just as the partisan emotions of the presidential campaign began to rise, the two began talking to each other about their shared interest in national service. The topic was a natural for both. Kennedy’s brother, the late president, had made his Peace Corps proposal a centerpiece of his 1960 campaign and had signed the law making it a reality. Hatch, like many young Mormons, had spent two years as a volunteer missionary for his church.
They quickly agreed on a bill that would combine two quite different approaches to national services.
As Hatch said during the Senate debate, they decided to marry the expansion of traditional voluntary part-time community service, endorsed by generations of Republicans, with increases in government-subsidized, full-time service programs devised by Democratic presidents, beginning with the Peace Corps.”
This bill tripled the size of AmeriCorps, the full-time government-subsidized volunteer program, to 250,000 slots over the next eight years. It also has provigions to increase opportunities for helping local churches, schools, food banks, and community groups to recruit, train and deploy volunteers to organizations that need them.
Ted Kennedy’s effectiveness as a legislator should be examined in more detail. Kennedy had, by the consensus in Washington, the best staff in Capitol Hill. His staff numbers over 100, including interns and visiting fellows, and they came from the great universities of the country: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern. His staff provides the research and the details to Kennedy’s major proposals. The book “Good Ted, Bad Ted” by Lester David, explains Kennedy’s strategy for passing important legislation.
“Kennedy is a superb legislator because he understands the inner workings of Congress the way a great football coach knows how and where to position his players and which plays are likely to succeed, which may fail.
Staff members explained his system: Before a single word of a contemplated measure is put on paper, Ted talks to legislators from both Houses, by phone or in person, and with other parties who have an interest in the issue, to obtain their views, pro and con. Then, after carefully noting where the thorny patches lie, Ted tailors the measures to sidestep them.
His goal is to win the backing of 70 percent of the members of both Houses. It is an important number since a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House can override a veto; the bill becomes immune to a presidential turndown. It also becomes filibuster-proof because two-thirds of the Senate and House can invoke the cloture rule which chokes off the endless speeches that can keep a measure from coming to a vote.
Discussing his legislative technique, Kennedy said, ‘If you’re interested in being effective, it’s important to build coalitions. You have to compromise to make progress.'”
We’ll miss Ted Kennedy’s political skills as important progressive goals are being brought to Congress. Expecially with a tough fight on Health Care, we will miss Ted Kennedy’s leadership and ability to get legislation through the Senate. I’m hoping that the President and the legislators are able to pass a good health care reform legislation with a public option to offer needed alternatives for people who cannot afford private health care insurance. Although I disagree with Orrin Hatch’s opinions on the current health care reform proposals, I am grateful for his collaborations with Ted Kennedy in so many important bills.