Kennedy's legacy of success incomplete

WASHINGTON — Upon his death, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was heralded as one of the greatest legislators of all time. But while his record includes historic legislation of sweeping consequence that places him among the Senate's most successful leaders, it also includes some unfinished business and some laws whose impact remains to fully measured.

In his nearly 47 years of service, Kennedy introduced 2,500 bills and saw more than 550 of them enacted into law, according to records compiled by his office.

Health care is the most obvious case where Kennedy can claim enormous strides since the 1960s. He supported medical research and had a hand in building hundreds of community health centers, in providing access to health care for workers who lose their jobs, in protecting the privacy of medical records and in providing services for those with HIV and AIDS.

Kennedy, with a long record of support for education, worked closely with President George W. Bush to enact No Child Left Behind, a bill that aimed to improve school performance by enforcing national minimum standards for achievement. He was excoriated by some Democrats and teacher groups for making common cause with a Republican president on a measure they strongly opposed.

Kennedy himself acknowledged flaws in the law and complained that the bill had been badly underfinanced and that the program as designed by Bush administration officials encouraged teachers to design their classes solely around standardized tests.

He also said the bill fell short of its goals of reducing class size and improving teacher training. Aides said that, had he lived, Kennedy would have worked to improve the law and see that it was fully financed.

A strong supporter of immigration liberalization measures, Kennedy played a major role in bills in 1965, 1986 and 1990 that lifted quotas on some nationalities, provided legal status for some undocumented workers and opened the borders to thousands fleeing oppression.

But he failed in his most ambitious effort to remake the nation's immigration system and provide legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States today.

In 2006, he co-sponsored a measure with Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, that would have strengthened border security while establishing a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal migrants.

The bill died in the House and the debate polarized an already divided Congress and nation.

Fast facts

7 seats open in Senate

With the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, seven seats in the Senate have been opened since the last election or soon will be, the most in any one year in six decades. Two of the vacancies resulted from the victory of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the presidential election. After that, Obama named two senators to the Cabinet — Colorado's Kenneth Salazar to Interior and New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton to State. Since then, two Republican senators, Mel Martinez of Florida and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, have said they will leave office this fall, before their terms expire.

With the exception of the Kennedy seat, the other six have been or will be filled by people appointed by their state's governors. FairVote, a nonpartisan group that promotes greater access to the political process, said that the departures of lawmakers means that four out of the five most populous states — Illinois, New York, Florida and Texas — and almost 27 percent of the U.S. population, will be represented by unelected senators.

Associated Press

Kennedy's legacy of success incomplete 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 12:03am]

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