September 10, 2009
HARKIN TRIBUTE TO SENATOR TED KENNEDY
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today made the following remarks on the Senate floor today in tribute to the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Below is the text of his remarks, as prepared for delivery.
“Mr. President, I look around this chamber, and I see men and women of remarkable talents and abilities. But I also have a strong sense –we all do – that there is a tremendous void in our midst. A very special Senator, a member who played a unique role within this body for nearly a half century, is no longer with us.
“We have heard many glowing and richly earned tributes to Senator Ted Kennedy over the last couple weeks. He was not only the most accomplished and effective Senator of the last 50 years, he was truly one of the towering figures in the entire history of the United States Senate.
"Yet for all his accomplishments, for all the historic bills that he authored and shepherded into law, for all the titanic battles that he fought, I will remember Ted Kennedy, first and foremost, as a good and descent human being. I will remember his extraordinary generosity, his courage, his passion, his capacity for friendship and caring.
“Of course, Ted came from a remarkable family, with so many tough breaks, so many triumphs, so many contributions to our nation, both in war and peace.
“Ted and his siblings were born to great wealth. They could have lived lives of luxury and leisure. But they chose, instead, to devote themselves to public service. They devoted themselves to making the world a better place for others, especially those in the shadows of life.
“With the death of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, on August 11, and the death of Ted Kennedy on August 25, people with disabilities in this country lost two great champions.
"Their sister, Rosemary, lived 86 years with a severe intellectual disability. The entire Kennedy family is well acquainted with the joys and struggles of those with disabilities.
“In 1975, Senator Kennedy helped to pass what is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In 1978, he passed legislation expanding the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission to protect people from discrimination on the basis of disability. In 1980, he introduced the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act, protecting the rights of people in government institutions, including the elderly, and people with intellectual and mental disabilities. And, 18 years ago, he was one of my most important partners in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I’ll never forget that, when I first came to the Senate after the 1984 election, Ted wanted me on his education and health committee. I told him that I’d be honored to serve on the committee, and that I would like to be assigned to chair the disability subcommittee. He readily agreed. And I have always appreciated this as an act of great generosity on his part. He already had an extensive record on disability issues, yet he let me take the lead.
“Likewise, back in 1990, as chair of the HELP Committee, he could have insisted on managing the Americans with Disabilities Act. But he let me do it, despite the fact that I was still a freshman Senator. He was an indispensible partner in my effort to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in this body.
"Ted always insisted that our focus should be not on disability but on ability, and that people with disabilities must be fully included in our American family. Americans with disabilities had no better friend, no tougher fighter, no more relentless champion than Senator Ted Kennedy.
“Yesterday, I accepted the chairmanship of the Senate HELP Committee. My aim in that capacity is to carry on the legacy of Senator Ted Kennedy. He dedicated his life to making our economy works for all Americans, to securing a quality education for every child, and, of course, to securing quality, affordable health care for every citizen – as a right not a privilege.
“We have heard many eloquent tributes to Senator Kennedy. But the tribute that would matter most to him would be for his colleagues to come together, on a bipartisan basis, to pass a strong comprehensive health reform bill this year.
“So we say farewell to our beloved colleague. He is no longer with us, but his work continues and, as he said, 'the cause endures.'
“May Ted Kennedy rest in peace. But may we not rest until we have completed the cause of his life – the cause he fought for until his last breath: ensuring quality, affordable health care for every American.”