The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s message to the country after the Supreme Court upheld the national health care law last week would be to let the reforms take effect and move on to other business, his widow said Sunday.
“This health care reform was the cause of my husband’s life,” Vicki Kennedy said on ABC’s “This Week.” “He believed that it was a moral issue, that it defined the character of who we were as a society, who we were as a country, and that decent, quality, affordable health care should be a fundamental right and not a privilege.
“And now, all three branches of our federal government have affirmed that right,’’ she said. “And I think if Teddy were here, he would tell us, ‘Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves, get to work, fully implement the law, and move on with the business of our country.’ ”
Vicki Kennedy’s description of health care reform as the cause of her husband’s life echoed a speech the late senator delivered at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when he made an impassioned plea for sweeping changes.
Kennedy had been diagnosed with brain cancer three months before the convention. He died a year later, in August 2009, seven months before President Obama signed the national health care law.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the law is constitutional, with Chief Justice John Roberts casting the tie-breaking vote. Vicki Kennedy said her husband, unlike many other lawmakers, would not have been surprised that the conservative Roberts voted to preserve the law.
“He had studied this issue for more than 40 years,” Vicki Kennedy said. “He believed in it, he believed in its constitutionality, he had looked at it in every way, and I think he would have been pleased but not surprised.”
Vicki Kennedy acknowledged that the law still faces challenges before its full implementation in 2014. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has pledged to try to repeal and replace it, if elected.
“Let’s make clear that we understand what the court did and did not do,” Romney said in public remarks hours after the Supreme Court ruling. “What the court did do today is say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do is to say that Obamacare is good law or that it is good policy.”
House Speaker John Boehner called it an “awful law” Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
‘‘We’ve got one last chance here to beat Obamacare, and we can do that in the November election,’’ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday.’’
Appearing on the same program, White House chief of staff Jack Lew countered that he believes most Americans want to put the health care debate to rest. ‘‘I actually think the American people want us to focus on the economy, on creating jobs and moving forward,’’ he said.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he and other Republican governors will take advantage of a less publicized caveat of the Supreme Court decision, which allows them to refuse federally funded Medicaid expansion — thwarting some of the law without penalty.
And Democrats, while touting the ruling as a victory, have struggled to reconcile the Obama administration’s winning argument — that Congress has the taxing authority to charge a fee from people who fail to obtain health insurance — with the president’s repeated assertions that the individual mandate is not a tax.
Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.