WASHINGTON - Democratic lawmakers said Sunday the best way for Congress to honor the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is to set aside the heated rhetoric of the health care debate and pass a plan that cuts costs and extends coverage. A key Republican said he doubts any Democrats in Congress have the force of personality to pull it off.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said lawmakers who want to honor Kennedy should "put behind us the blistering days of August, enter the cool days of September, and start acting like senators again."
Congress returns from a monthlong break next week no closer to passing a health care plan than when lawmakers left town. During the break, Democratic members of Congress have faced heated town hall gatherings across the country, with many of those attending hurling insults over Democratic plans to overhaul the nation's health care system.
Dodd said lawmakers who respect each others' opinions and are civil in their disagreements are more likely to reach legislative compromises.
"If you do all of those things, then you can achieve the kind of results that Teddy achieved and that the Senate as a body has achieved historically," Dodd said. "If you abandon civility, then you're going to be in trouble."
Dodd and other lawmakers close to Kennedy appeared on the Sunday morning news shows to remember the Massachusetts senator a day after his funeral Mass in Boston and his burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Kennedy's absence hurts the chances of Congress passing a health care plan. Hatch, a conservative Republican, and Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, often differed on issues, but they were close friends who worked together on legislation.
"There is no other Democrat who could carry the base of the Democratic Party and get them to do what really has to be done in a compromise situation," Hatch said. "He was able to acknowledge that he couldn't get everything he wanted through, but if he worked with us, he could get some things that were good. And, of course, I had to do the same."
Committees in both the House and Senate have approved plans aimed at extending health coverage to the nearly 50 million Americas who lack it. But there is no consensus on how to pay for an overhaul that could cost $1 trillion over the next decade. President Barack Obama has said he would not sign a bill that adds to the nation's growing national debt.
Dodd appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," Hatch appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and ABC's "This Week." Both appeared on CNN's "State of the Union."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.