By Any Means Possible
Mark Schmitt, a former staffer on the Senate Finance Committee, recalls a small anecdote that says a lot about Kennedy's style as a legislator:
Early on in the period when I was working for Sen. Bill Bradley, Bradley decided to get involved in reform of the student-loan system. He wasn't on the appropriate committee (Kennedy's Education and Labor Committee, now known as HELP), and he had never been involved before. But as a member of the Finance Committee, he saw a way to sneak student-loan funding into a tax bill, and pay for it. While other Democrats on Education and Labor brushed us off as if we were encroaching on their domain (we were, shamelessly!), Kennedy saw it as just another opportunity to get some good accomplished.
Before we knew it, Kennedy had pulled everyone involved into his maritime-themed hideaway office (perhaps the most awe-inspiring physical space in the entire Capitol) to figure out how to get it done, and he threw himself into it -- at one point calling me from the Senate floor to dictate the precise flattering language of a letter we would need to send to Sen. Robert C. Byrd to persuade him to give his permission to the unorthodox move. In the end it didn't happen (the first President Bush vetoed the bill), and it's not even a footnote to his legacy. It was one of hundreds, thousands of tiny moments of opportunity to make some progress, and if 99 out of 100 of those opportunities failed, he knew that the one that didn't would at least make a difference in someone's life.
During the Bush years, that approach could sometimes be turned against him. If he had known that the administration didn't intend to fund the No Child Left Behind legislation, he might not have lent his support in 2001, and his support for the Medicare prescription-drug legislation got it through the Senate, only to see his compromise completely wiped out in conference. It took him a while, as it did most liberals, to appreciate that there were no real opportunities in the Bush years, that steadfast opposition was the only honorable position. When Obama emerged as a colleague and presidential candidate, it was evident to Kennedy, though not as clear to others, that his approach to compromise and bipartisanship was similar to Kennedy's own, that it was based in the idea that if you have a clear vision of where you want to go, you can -- and should -- try to find common ground and opportunities for change with anyone you can.
Posted by: Dellis2 | August 27, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse
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