WASHINGTON – Senator Edward M. Kennedy is back in Washington this week to shepherd a bipartisan bill that would greatly expand funding for national service and to hold a series of meetings on healthcare as part of an effort to draft a massive overhaul plan this summer.
It would be the longest stint on Capitol Hill of the Obama administration for Kennedy, who has been in Florida recuperating and undergoing treatment for brain cancer. He returned to Washington earlier this month for a White House healthcare forum and before that returned briefly to cast a key vote last month on the economic stimulus package. On Obama’s inauguration day, he suffered a seizure at a congressional luncheon and was held overnight for what doctors said was fatigue.
Kennedy has been a passionate advocate of the national service legislation, which builds on initiatives to boost public service that began during his brother’s presidency. The measure was the first major piece of legislation the ailing lawmaker brought forward after being diagnosed with a brain tumor last May.
Written with Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, the plan would provide $5 billion over five years to fund 250,000 volunteers in energy, environmental, healthcare, and education programs. A similar measure passed overwhelmingly last week in the House, 321-105, with 70 Republican votes, and President Obama highlighted the effort in his first joint address to Congress.
The Massachusetts Democrat was part of a 74-14 vote last evening to bring the bill to the Senate floor. A final vote is likely this week.
Kennedy – who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee – will also hold meetings on healthcare, a spokesman said yesterday.
He and his staff have been working closely with Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who laid out a breakneck schedule for a healthcare overhaul, including a review of healthcare delivery in April, an examination of ways to expand coverage in May, and an examination of financing options before drafting the proposed legislation by June.
Kennedy "and I have set up regular meetings with those senators who will play a role in health reform, to inform and oversee the process as our staffs work closely together to craft a bill," Baucus wrote yesterday in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. "In the coming weeks and months, the Senate Finance Committee and the entire Congress will try, try again to pass comprehensive health reform. And this time, there is a better chance than ever to succeed."