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Democrats Invoke Kennedy's Death in Calling for Health Care Reform

Do it for Teddy. 

In statements that came steadily streaming out of Capitol Hill Wednesday morning within hours after Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, Democratic lawmakers tried to embed that message in the health care reform debate. 

With the push for legislation hitting a rough patch, Democrats are trying, however delicately, to use Kennedy's passing as a rallying cry for the legislation, reminding voters that the package idling on the Hill was "the cause" of Kennedy's life. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose version of the bill has drawn heated criticism from constituents across the country, invoked health care reform almost immediately after Kennedy's death was made public. 

"Senator Kennedy had a grand vision for America, and an unparalleled ability to effect change," she said in a written statement. "Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration." 

It's unclear whether the death of the Kennedy family patriarch will invigorate proponents of the debate. 

Liberal Democrats may once again rally to President Obama's side, following concerns about the possibility that the final product would not contain a government-run insurance plan. 

But unless and until his seat is filled by a like-minded lawmaker, his absence also means one fewer vote for health care reform should it come to the floor. And Republicans made little reference to health care reform while expressing their condolences Wednesday. 

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., for instance, drew more attention to Kennedy's efforts on immigration reform. Other Republicans praised Kennedy for his work on education reform. 

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said she didn't think Kennedy's death would move Congress closer to a compromise. If anything, she said, Kennedy could have brought more Republicans to the table. 

"He will be missed ... because of his ability to negotiate, compromise and work across the aisle," she said. 

But other Democrats cited his dedication to health care foremost, with the clear implication that Congress should honor him by finishing his work. 

"We will achieve real health care reform thanks to the groundwork he laid," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said. 

"His tireless efforts have brought us to the threshold of real health care reform," former President Clinton said. 

"As we move forward with health reform legislation, his absence will be palpable," said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. "But let us use his inspirational words as our guide, to rise to our best ideals and finally provide decent quality health care to all Americans as a fundamental right, not a privilege."

Other lawmakers were more subtle. 

"He fought to the very end for the cause of his life -- ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked Kennedy's own words, the "dream shall never die," in calling on colleagues to pick up where Kennedy left off. 

"As we mourn his loss, we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life," he said. 

At least one group opposed to Democrats' health care proposals, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, suspended its ad campaign on Wednesday out of respect for the Kennedy family.