Ted Kennedy started thinking seriously about how Americans get health care in a hospital bed in 1964. That began a lifelong commitment to making health care available to everyone, a commitment that culminated six months after Kennedy's death as President Barack Obama signed the legislation he inspired.
Ted Kennedy started thinking seriously about how Americans get health care in a hospital bed in 1964. The young senator had barely survived an airplane crash, and through his long recovery, he often asked friends how people who didn't come from wealthy families managed to afford the kind of care he was receiving.
That began a lifelong commitment to making health care available to everyone, a commitment that culminated six months after Kennedy's death as President Barack Obama signed the legislation he inspired.
Kennedy's actions, and those of voters and officials, are central to the narrative of health care reform.
It was Kennedy who, in exchange for his endorsement early in the 2008 primary campaign, got Obama to promise to make health care reform a priority for his first year in office.
It was Kennedy who, even as the tumor that would take his life grew in his brain, directed the writing of the Senate health care bill, based in great part on the Massachusetts health reforms he had helped win passage in 2006.
It was Kennedy who, in his dying days, realized that he wouldn't live to vote for the bill he had worked so long to pass, and that, because state law provided for a special election to fill Senate vacancies, his seat might be empty when the bill came up for a vote. So Kennedy implored the governor and state Legislature to pass a new law providing for an interim senator to be appointed by the governor, to serve until a special election could be held.
So it was Kennedy's longtime friend, Paul Kirk, who had been appointed interim senator by Gov. Deval Patrick, who cast the deciding vote on Christmas Eve. Kirk was the 60th vote for stopping the Republican filibuster. Health care cleared the Senate, and was sent to a conference committee to be merged with the bill that had cleared the House.
Then came Scott Brown, promising to be the "41st vote," the one that would defeat health care reform. Republican Brown shocked the nation when he defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the Jan. 19 special election with 52 percent of the vote. He, along with a national chorus of Republicans and their media cheerleaders, declared that "the people" had decided there should be no health care reform this year, presumably relegating the million Massachusetts voters who cast ballots for Coakley to another species.
But Brown never got to vote on the Senate health care bill. Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi came up with a new strategy. The problems Obama and House Democrats had with the Senate bill would be resolved through a separate bill, one that met the narrow requirements that would allow it to evade a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
That smaller "reconciliation" bill passed the House on Sunday and is awaiting action in the Senate. But the House adopted intact the main bill, the one the Senate approved in December, sending it straight to the president for his signature.
In the end, it was Paul Kirk's vote that delivered health care reform, not Scott Brown's vote that defeated it. Wherever he is, Ted Kennedy must be smiling.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the MetroWest Daily News, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.