It's no secret that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been gauging how Sen. Edward Kennedy's death affects the health care debate.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave an unusually blunt assessment in an interview with a local newspaper.
"I think it's going to help us," the Nevada Democrat told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Democrats generally have used Kennedy's death as a rallying cry for health care reform, urging their colleagues to push through legislation that was Kennedy's life work. Republicans and Democrats have tried to shape the health care debate by speculating on how Kennedy would have wanted it handled.
But, aside from Reid, they've steered clear of saying outright whether Kennedy's death puts them up or down.
Reid made his comments Friday, the day before Kennedy was buried. He offered two reasons for the assessement. One, Kennedy's death clears the way for a new chairman on the Senate health committee. Two, Kennedy serves as an inspiration.
"He hasn't been around for some time. We're going to have a new chairman of that committee. It'll be, I don't know for sure, but I think Sen. (Chris) Dodd," Reid told the news paper. "He has a right to take it. Either him or (U.S. Sen. Tom) Harkin, whichever one wants it can have it. I think he (Kennedy) will be a help. He's an inspiration for us. That was the issue of his life and he didn't get it done."
Unfortunately for Reid, Kennedy's death also deprived Democrats of a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. It's a problem Democrats are trying to fix, by pushing for an interim appointment before Massachusetts voters choose Kennedy's successor in a special election, set for January.
Reid also told the Gazette-Journal that the August recess, which was marked by town hall meetings where constituents fumed about the legislation, ultimately would help the health care reform push.
"For one thing I think the American people have seen the wrongness of trying to interrupt meetings and yell and scream at people. That's lost a lot of its pizzazz," Reid said.