POLITICS
04/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Lion Roars Once More: Kennedy Makes Emotional Pitch For Health Care Reform

A day that was designed to produce conversation and cohesion on reforming the health care system ended with an emotional pitch.

President Barack Obama, concluding a summit with leaders from Congress, the non-profit world, the medical and the insurance industries, entered the closing session at the East Room of the White House with a guest by his side.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the voiced boomed over the loudspeaker, "the president of the United States accompanied by Senator Ted Kennedy."

The crowd of roughly 150 guests jumped to its feet in approval. Suffering from brain cancer and confined, largely, to a home in Florida, the Liberal Lion's mere presence in the Washington struck an emotional chord. Kennedy didn't disappoint. Introduced by the president as "Sir Edward Kennedy" - an ode to the knighting the Senator recently received from the Queen of England - the long-time health care champion waxed optimistically about this moment in history.

"I join with all of those who feel that this is the time, now is the time for action," he said. "I think most of us who have been in this room before have seen other times when the House and the senate have made efforts. But they haven't been the kind of serious effort that we are seeing right now. If you look over his gathering here today you see the representatives of all the different groups that we have met with over the period of years...That has not been the case over the history of the past going all the way back to Harry Truman time. But it is the case now. And it is I think a tribute to your leadership in bringing all these people together."

Another applause ensued. Kennedy, looking thinner than in the past, his hair still full and gray, sat to the president's left as other officials were called upon to speak. Several offered tributes to the Massachusetts Democrat.

"Senator Kennedy will not be a foot soldier in this battle," said Rep. Henry Waxman. "He has been an inspiration for all of use."

"To Sen. Kennedy," Rep. Charlie Rangel later declared, "this has been a fantastic day."

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The emotions of the moment were only mildly interrupted by the business at hand. Obama declined to get into the specifics of the health care debate, choosing instead to frame the day as the launching pad for a wide-ranging discussion. But he did lay down some markers on where the topic would go. There would be, he noted, some things that even "Newt Gingrich and Ted Kennedy" could agree on. And then there would need to be sacrifices on the progressive and conservative fronts.

"To all your liberal bleeding hearts out there, don't think that we can solve this problem without tackling costs. And that may make some on the progressive community uncomfortable," said Obama. "On the flip side, I say to those who are obsessed with costs, and this goes to the issue of Medicare and Medicaid reform as well, I don't think that as a bottom line as a means of protecting costs it means you can throw seniors off Medicare, for example."