With the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the fate of health care reform could fall on the shoulders of a lesser-known Democrat who is more associated with the corporate world of credit cards and big-dollar bailouts.
One of the Massachusetts Democrat's best friends, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee after Kennedy himself, who chaired the panel.
Both gregarious New Englanders of Irish descent, Kennedy and Dodd have been friends throughout the decades they served together in the Senate. That's where comparisons begin to break down, however.
A member of one of the world's most famous families, before his death from cancer last week, Kennedy was instantly recognizable as the "liberal lion" of the Senate.
Dodd has been in Congress nearly as long as Kennedy was, but he never became an icon the way Kennedy did. The chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, he is more known for helping pass credit card legislation and last year's massive financial bailouts than for any causes dear to the left. Indeed, this year Dodd finds himself in his first seriously contested reelection bid since he first came to the Senate nearly 30 years ago. For all of that, however, Dodd may be the natural senator to step in to finish the health care reform so dear to Kennedy's heart.
No official announcements have been made on who will take the chairmanship of the HELP Committee now that Kennedy is gone, and Dodd has given no word as to whether he wants to move from Banking to HELP. But in the more than a year before he died, as he was ailing from cancer, Kennedy rarely made it to the Senate. In his absence, Kennedy named Dodd as his chief deputy on health care reform. When the HELP Committee passed its version of health reform before the August congressional recess, Kennedy issued a statement singling Dodd out for thanks. "No man has ever had a truer or more generous friend than he has been to me, and no cause has ever had a more able leader than he has been in the great effort to enact health reform," Kennedy said at the time.